Pharma’s MSL Department Structures


With the evolution of Medical Affairs’ input and oversight on nearly all activities in the pharma and biotech industries, Industry Standard Research (ISR) set out to gain a better understanding of what the Medical Affairs’ Medical Science Liaison (MSL) function entails: specifically, looking at job responsibilities and ways to measure the inherent value the MSL role brings to the organization as a whole, how MSL-affiliated departments are structured, and the challenges currently being faced by MSL professionals in the field. This report also details the best practices that firms have developed for staying ahead in this ever-evolving industry.
ISR has designed this report to be used as a benchmarking tool for companies to compare their Medical Science Liaison functions to those of other pharmaceutical and biotech organizations.

Benchmarking MSL

What you will learn:

  • MSL department headcount, structure, and alignment within organizations
  • MSL-affiliated department funding and budgets—what are they and how are they sourced
  • MSL training and effectiveness measures
  • Main challenges faced by MSL-affiliated departments and potential solutions
  • Anticipated changes in the MSL role over the next 5 years

How to use:

  • Determine where your company’s approach to the MSL function may be different from a typical industry approach and the benefits and drawbacks that may result.
  • Gather information on MSL department structures and headcounts employed by other organizations to provide a new perspective from which to consider your departmental alignment. (All interviewees confirmed MSLs continue to have a reporting structure either directly or indirectly into Medical Affairs.)
  • Learn about common industry approaches to practices such as outsourcing and effectiveness measures related to MSLs.
  • Involvement in Product Development Process
  • MSL-Affiliated Department Size and Structure
  • Organizational Structure for MSLs
  • MSL-Affiliated Department Budget
  • Training
  • Effectiveness Metrics
  • Main Departmental Challenges & Potential Solutions
  • Outsourcing Behavior
  • Future Predictions

ISR understands that you’re looking for confidence in your market research. With ISR, you’ll consistently receive

  • Focused Domain Expertise — We’ve operated in pharmaceuticals for over 15 years and because it’s our sole focus, our domain expertise brings value to the work that “generalist” researchers can’t deliver.
  • Genuine Research Expertise — Our market research experience has developed over 20 years in many dynamic industries.  We capture appropriate sample sizes, given the research objectives, and we use appropriately sophisticated statistics to uncover everything that’s real and to give you confidence in your decisions. Read our Six Questions to Ask About Your Market Research to learn more about why our industry expertise sets us apart.
  • Transparency — If you’re like many, you’ve been disappointed more than once by research providers who fail to live up to their promises, providing you with their “professional judgment” in place of sound data; and suspect contacts instead of real decision-makers. We deliver the beliefs, attitudes, and intentions of people who matter – and we’ll prove it by showing you the titles of your respondents.

For additional questions about any of ISR’s reports or custom research services, please contact us at

Benchmarking MSL

Study Overview

Research Objectives
Potential Best Practices


Interviewee Job Titles
Years of Experience in Managing MSLs
MSL Responsibilities
MSL Attributes

Involvement in Product Development Process

Key Takeaways

MSL-Affiliated Department Size and Structure

Location of Staff

Organizational Structures for MSLs

Overview of Medical Science Liaison-Affiliated Department Structures
Geographically Aligned, then Therapeutically Aligned
Therapeutically Aligned, then Geographically Aligned
Commercial Alignment
Organizational Alignment
Key Takeaways

MSL-Affiliated Department Budget

Medical Science Liaison Budgets for 2018
Largest Spend Categories (after Salary)
Sources of Funding for Medical Science Liaisons
Key Takeaways


Effectiveness Metrics

Qualitative Measures
Quantitative Measures
Key Takeaways

Main Departmental Challenges & Potential Solutions

Conveying the Value of the Medical Affairs Function
Pressure to Operate with Increasing Regulation or Compliance Preventing MSL Access & KOL Recruitment
Key Takeaways

Outsourcing Behavior

Degree of Outsourcing
Services Outsourced
The Future of Outsourcing for MSL Role
Key Takeaways

Future Predictions

Growth of the MSL role
Industry-wide metrics evaluating the MSL role
Evolution of the MSL role
Evolution into digital

Potential Best Practices and Recommendations

Additional information


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