What is a Medical Science Liaison?


The Medical Science Liaison (MSL) is a specific role within the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, CRO and other health-care industries. MSLs have advanced scientific training and academic credentials generally consisting of a doctorate degree (Ph.D., PharmD., M.D.) in the life sciences. They concentrate on a specific Therapeutic Area (i.e. Oncology, Cardiology, CNS, Pulmonary, Hematology, Surgery, Women’s Health Care, etc) and disease state.

Medical Science Liaisons are vital in the success of a company. They work throughout a product’s lifecycle, help to ensure that products are utilized effectively, serve as scientific peers and resources within the medical community, and are scientific experts to internal colleagues at companies. However, the primary purpose of the MSL role is to establish and maintain peer-peer relationships with leading physicians, referred to as Key Opinion Leaders (KOL’s), at major academic institutions and clinics.

Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) were first established by Upjohn Pharmaceuticals in 1967 as a response to the need for scientifically trained field staff that would be able to build rapport with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in various therapeutic areas of research. Although originally called Medical Science Liaisons by Upjohn, over the years and today, companies have used various names for the role including: Medical Liaisons, Medical Managers, Regional Scientific Managers, Clinical Liaisons, and Scientific Affairs Managers among others. Originally, the first MSLs were selected from experienced sales representatives that had strong scientific backgrounds to bring a higher degree of clinical and educational expertise to the medical professionals they were working with. Over the years, MSL teams have been made up of individuals with various scientific backgrounds including: sales reps, those with nursing backgrounds, those with various doctoral degrees or other clinical backgrounds. However, the required educational and scientific background as well as the purpose of the MSL role has progressively changed over the years since they were first established.


In the late 1980’s, a number of companies began to require those applying to MSL roles to hold a doctorate degree such as an M.D., PharmD., or Ph.D. Although, historically, the educational standard in the industry did not require MSLs to havea doctorate degree, today the doctorate degree has become the educational standard in the industry for the MSL role. In fact, according to one benchmark study, more than 90% of current MSLs hold a doctorate degree.

Although the MSL role is evolving, the MSL community is still small when compared to other professions within the pharmaceutical industry. However, there has been an exponential growth of the role over the last several years. According to a recent benchmark study, at the top ten pharmaceutical companies in the U.S., the MSL role has grown by an average of 76% since 2005. The evolution and rapid growth of the role has resulted in the need for a professional society dedicated to the MSL role.