New year, new blog posts! A number of our fellowship companies offer the opportunity to participate in rotations during your time as a fellow. Rotations typically last 3-4 months and allow a fellow to explore different areas of their functional area. Many fellows get to attend conferences or congresses, as well as take leadership of certain projects for hands on experience in their field.
Tucker Ward, who has previously written for us before, will be documenting his first year rotations for the blog. He recently completed his first rotation in Scientific Communications as a Worldwide Medical fellow at Biogen. Keep reading to learn more about why rotations can be a valuable experience for fellows!
My name is Tucker Ward and I am a Worldwide Medical Fellow at Biogen. In a previous blog post, I provided an overview of this specific program and outlined some of the factors that you should consider when pursuing a fellowship in the biopharmaceutical industry. As previously mentioned, the first year of this program allows fellows to rotate through various functional and/or therapeutic areas to gain hands-on experience in a variety of different roles. By sharing my experiences in these rotations, I hope to shed light on some of the functions typically found within a Global Medical Affairs organization to help you decide if this functional area is right for you. In this post specifically, I will provide an overview of some of the work I was involved in during my first rotation: Scientific Communications.
Throughout their training, pharmacists learn about the complex treatment strategies utilized to prevent, mitigate, and treat many different disease states. While this knowledge makes up the foundation of what it means to be a “medication expert”, it would be utterly useless without a strong ability to communicate. From patients to physicians, the core skill driving the success of any pharmacist is communication, and it is this skill that enables many pharmacists to excel in Scientific Communications roles throughout the biopharmaceutical industry.
Scientific Communications is a functional area typically found within the Medical Affairs branch of a biopharmaceutical company. This team is responsible for the development of the scientific data dissemination strategy for a particular product or therapeutic area, which subsequently drives the implementation of publication, and medical communication plans. Simply put, publication plans include tactics for external data communication such as the submission and publication of abstracts, manuscripts and oral/poster presentations at scientific congresses. Subsequently, medical communications functions to create and maintain internal scientific platforms and ad hoc medical communications materials for internal distribution once this data has been published in some form externally. These two groups work in synergy to meet the overall goal of Scientific Communications, which is to communicate medical and scientific data in a fair, accurate and well-balanced manner to specific audiences in order to support the optimal use of a company’s products.
On this first rotation, I worked with the Scientific Communications team that focuses on one of our multiple sclerosis (MS) products and split my time between the medical communications and publications functions. Luckily for me, I joined this team right before a major MS congress was set to take place. My team planned on submitting a number of journal articles and oral presentations to this congress to showcase new data for our product and so there was much to do and plenty for me to learn. Some of my specific goals for this rotation were to:
- Perform the day to day functions of a Scientific Communications team member;
- Lead the updates to the global scientific platform (GSP) and global slide library (GSL);
- Manage the development and submission of at least one publication to a major congress;
- Work across functions and geographies, and;
- Identify the skills needed to excel in this role.
This first rotation was an incredible learning opportunity and I am happy to say that I was able to achieve each of these goals on top of leading various impactful projects which I will outline briefly. First, I led a portfolio-wide review and update of our medical communications materials’ language surrounding specific sub-populations to align this language to our overall medical strategy. I also facilitated a brainstorming session with internal stakeholders to generate ideas for medical communications and publications tactics after performing a deep-dive into the clinical trial and real-world evidence generated for our existing MS products in order to prepare for a new addition to our MS portfolio. Finally, I led a medical competitive intelligence workstream to gauge the medical communications activities of products that have utilized a unique pathway in their regulatory filing to the FDA. These projects gave me the cross-functional experience I was hoping for and forced me to think strategically about how to align such projects with a product’s overall medical strategy.
The project I am most proud of from this rotation is the key medical expert (KME) engagement plan I had the chance to develop as one of our products neared its US regulatory filing. Being new to the company and the therapeutic area, this project presented a unique challenge. I had to develop a plan prioritizing the external experts we should engage with based on aspects such as their level of expertise in the field, their clinical trial experience with our product, and their location.
Because I work in Biogen’s global office, this project gave me the opportunity to work with our colleagues in country-specific offices around the world to draw from their experiences regarding the experts in their markets. Not only did I have to consider the global medical and commercial strategy for this product, but also budgetary restrictions that forced me to think creatively about how we can maximize our engagement with these experts through tactics such as advisory boards and expert panels at global congresses. Additionally, participation in such activities can constitute a sizable portion of the responsibilities of a Scientific Communications team, which may generate opportunities to travel domestically or abroad.
Overall, this rotation in Scientific Communications provided me with a lot of insight into the medical communications and publications activities surrounding an established product and its team. Such teams employ many different tools to effectively communicate clinical and scientific data to various groups, both internally and externally. It is clear to me that in order to be successful in this role, one must be well versed in the product, the entirety of its data generation efforts, and the disease state(s) it is indicated for on top of the specific audience(s) being targeted. Only then can one think strategically and creatively about how to most effectively communicate such data.
Tucker Ward, PharmD, is a Worldwide Medical Post-Doctoral Fellow with MCPHS University and Biogen