Trend: Pharmas using more "medical science liasons" in physician outreach

If you're a sales rep for a pharmaceutical product, you're barred from discussing any uses of a drug not approved by the FDA. Like most regulations, however, there's a loophole, and drug companies are marching right through.

Increasingly, pharmas are using employees dubbed "medical science liaisons"--usually physicians or pharmacists--to call medical practices. Since the liaisons are considered medical rather than sales staff, they have more leeway than sales reps in discussing the drugs they're touting. While traditional sales reps have to route any info requests to medical or scientific staff, liaisons can have the conversation on the spot, discussing not only the science behind the drugs but also, potentially, unapproved uses.

While still constituting a small portion of the pharma outreach effort, recently the number of liasons used by pharmas has climbed rapidly. This group totaled 1,970 in 2008, up 48 percent from 1,335 in 2003, according to data from 12 major pharma and biotech companies gathered by PharmaForce International. Meanwhile, drugmakers have been cutting back on the traditional sales forces, with the total number of U.S. sales reps falling to 90,000 in 2008, from a peak of about 106,000 in 2006, according to consulting firm ZS Associates.

To find out more about this trend:
- read this Kaiser Health News piece

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