Seeking Nirvana in a post Brexit world? How will Medical Affairs be impacted in the UK?

Our latest CPIA report features analysis on the Medical Affairs sector.

Clinical Professionals Group CEO, Yvette Cleland comments:

“The emerging healthcare landscape has a core focus on meeting the obligations to its patients and customers alike. Innovation is now transforming the life sciences industry and in the midst of this evolution, medical affairs (MA) finds itself an ever-increasing strategic pillar alongside R&D and commercial. Exceptional science and data are becoming the bedrock of pharma as advances in digital technology and biosciences develop at an ever-increasing pace and the sheer volume of data can seem bewildering. With Brexit now looking to be in full swing, our latest report on the vacancy landscape in the UK and Europe for Medical Affairs (MA) is indicating some changes ahead.

Our most recent MA report maps the current vacancy landscape across Europe and highlights some changes within current hiring patterns and volumes. Perhaps not a total surprise based on Brexit and the ongoing Swiss/EU issues. Accepting that Medical Affairs is a critical pillar in an industry that gathers momentum (literally) daily, in 2017 to 2018 the demand for MA professionals in the UK grew by 22% and the indicators are this growth coincided with the increasing and changing skill requirements in certain areas of MA. In 2019 we saw only 11% growth in MA vacancies in the UK. As a business we saw a general slowdown of opportunity throughout 2019 with an unusual spike in vacancies in December after the General Election. However, in terms of an overall trend, this would be of very little note as December can often see a seasonal increase in roles coming in, albeit we normally see this increased activity in early December as the calendar Year End approaches. Early market indicators around MA for 2020 in the UK are already predicting a further fall of opportunities; currently estimated to be at around a 4% drop on last year. To context this, in 2018 the UK held over 18% of all European MA new live positions, in 2019 this dropped to 16%.

The geographical winner for growth in MA live vacancies in 2019 now sits with Germany who experienced a 5% increase over 2018 in volume of vacancies. New roles in 2019 also increased in France with a substantial 13% rise making it the fastest growing country in Europe for new MA career opportunities.

So, is this now a major worry for the UK and is the proverbial writing on the wall for Medical Affairs in a post Brexit world? My personal opinion would be no, I believe uncertainty can create major turbulence and that the continued growth and investment in the UK Biotech sector will make up some of the MA vacancy shortfall from large pharma. Anecdotally, what I hear from the coal face differs from the data, but we would not expect growth in vacancies in 2020 but a steady state or slight reduction. It is also worth noting that many MA professionals that were considering a move stayed put whilst Brexit played out, and many UK contractors held their breath and decided to remain in contract roles due to IR35, looking to see if any changes in this legislation coming into force in April 2020 would take place.

Two years ago, The Clinical Professionals Group went on a journey as a business looking to add proper value to our UK/US/EU client base whose business we value deeply. One of our 4 key strategic pillars for the business was to “give back” to the life sciences community in which we are privileged to work. We started in Harvard, Massachusetts, under our US brand Cpl Physicians and brought together a group of Chief Medical Officer’s. A group of 15 handpicked professionals to have dinner, debate and peer to peer exchange around the challenges in Medical Affairs, changing technology and the issues that are currently “keeping us up at night”. The sharing of experiences, innovation and solutions under Chatham House Rules led that first event to be a resounding success. The most valuable element of this evening being a rare opportunity to spend time in a peer group of aligned professionals and competitors and have honest and (at times) a robust exchange of experiences.

In the last two years we have sponsored and facilitated over 7 events that, by invitation only, bring together VP’s, senior directors and CMO’s from both biotech and large pharma in the UK and the US. In the safety of an exceptional peer group we have facilitated new relationships, solution gathering and different approaches to difficult issues through peer to peer exchange. Feedback from the UK group is that their hiring requirements continue to grow, but the continued uncertainty was flowing through and impacting sign off in the UK, this coupled with a UK skill shortage in key roles could account for some of the loss of growth. Brexit in fact did not feature in the issues keeping MA professionals awake at night, the lack of training in industry, the shift in skill requirement in MA and the below par onboarding and support of new starters were considered more of a concern.

In 2019 big pharma requirements accounted for 86% of MA roles on the market versus 90% in 2017. In 2019 we saw the greatest proportionate increase in MA roles coming from the Biotech industry where the relative increase year on year was 71%. The UK has a strong and ever-growing presence in Biotech and interestingly when we are working with large pharma candidates in MA, they are asking us to identify roles in up and coming, well-funded biotech’s versus pharma.

So, the one thing I have learned through my attendance at our MA dinner and debate evenings in the UK and US is the exceptional talent and innovation that is seeded throughout MA professionals in both regions. What will really impact MA in the UK in the coming years? Will it be those innovative businesses that succeed in really positioning their science with their ability to both combine, analyse and interpret disparate data sets? Improving patient outcomes is the Nirvana of MA so the growing skills and knowledge around realworld evidence (RWE), electronic medical records (EMR) and novel sources of data with innovative ways of mining and interpreting data could enhance massively stakeholder engagement and ultimately improve patient outcomes.
We have a challenge ahead in a post-Brexit UK, but we really have no understanding of what that will really be. When you label anything, as many commentators within science have in the UK as an “impending disaster that is Brexit” and with this labelling are we saying this is the only way it can be? Or could these negative undertones be what will limit us and our understanding or could we as a country and science community in fact decide to be free from those negative constraints? Of these belief systems? And instead decide we can constantly change our views, talk up our opportunities and seek some new truths for the UK life science industry? Perhaps that is our true Nirvana?”

Yvette Cleland – CEO | Clinical Professionals Ltd

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