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Uncovering the unmet needs of patients

At Takeda, there is a role called a Medical Science Liaison (MSL), a job that involves listening to doctors who see patients on a daily basis and paving the way to better treatments for symptoms that are not addressed by current medicines.

Opening our eyes to signs of suffering
You may or may not have heard of a Medical Science Liaison (MSL). Although Takeda is a pharmaceutical company, an MSL is not actually involved in the development or promotion of medicines. Instead, the job involves listening to doctors and uncovering medical needs that have yet to be recognized; these are often referred to as unmet medical needs.

Based on our expert knowledge of medicine and pharmaceutical science, an MSL holds daily discussions with doctors and seeks to discover such unmet medical needs. This may lead to a thesis or a new medicine, but our real aim is to find, as quickly as possible, previously unknown illnesses or patients who are suffering. It’s our strong desire not to abandon a single person who is suffering from, or troubled by, an illness, and with our deep knowledge of pharmaceutical science, I feel that an MSL truly embodies this idea.

I was appointed to this role four years ago and am now in a managerial position. I originally joined Takeda as a researcher and went on to write my thesis and obtain a doctorate degree. Although I was happy with how my career was going, when I heard about the job of an MSL while studying in the USA, I got so excited I could hardly sleep. The idea of being a specialist who holds discussions with doctors on an equal footing really appealed to me, and so later, I successfully applied for the position and was transferred to my current department.

Playing the role of the patient in meetings
At Takeda, one of our core values is Patient First: always considering first and foremost the benefit to the patient. However, it is the doctor who comes into direct contact with them, meaning that in reality, it can be difficult to get a feel for how patients are suffering. For this reason, in our meetings, we assign one of the discussion participants to play the role of ‘Voice of the Patient,’ in which they take on the persona of a patient and provide comments from that standpoint.
In our meetings, there is a natural desire for us to pursue efficiency and prioritize the general needs of 10,000 patients over those of a single individual. When that happens, the person in the ‘Voice of the Patient’ role will speak up, perhaps saying, “I have a problem with that!” We then listen to the voice of that one patient, someone who may have an as-yet-unidentified illness or who may have been left behind by current medical practice. Their comments help remind us of the core mission of an MSL.
I’ve learned that while our day-to-day work is very important, it’s also vital to look at the bigger picture, and with this in mind, I also regularly review the MSL evaluation system. For example, every day, I think about how I can engage doctors in deep discussion; to do this, I might prepare by reading an enormous volume of theses. In this job, it is difficult to know whether such efforts will eventually lead to the discovery of new treatments and answers for unmet medical needs, or when we’ll see signs of success. That’s why it’s important to assess people based on their continuous steady efforts as they deal with matters at hand. I am currently reforming the evaluation system so as to assess processes in the same way that I assess results, that is by the quality of their value rather than the quantity of them.

I have two children, aged five and seven, and my awareness of medicine has changed since becoming a mother. For example, even when I have to give them the usual over-the-counter cold medicine, I’m more conscious now than I used to be of the listed indications and side effects.
When I started taking my children to preschool, they would cry, and I would go to work wondering if I was sacrificing my children for the sake of my career. But the way I see it now is that my children are doing their best, so I should work even harder. I give it my best every day so that when my children ask me what I do, I can answer them with pride.

The words I live by
“Enjoy the rain, delight in the wind.”

There are many barriers on the road to bringing relief to an individual patient. But I face these with a positive frame of mind and overcome them with a spirit of perseverance in all that I do.

Shiho Matsumoto

She worked as a researcher before joining, through in-house recruitment, Takeda’s Medical Affairs department, to which MSL’s belong. She feels that Takeda is very supportive of those who wish to pursue a career with great breadth and depth.