MAPA–MAPS Medical Affairs Summit 2023: highlights report

27 November 2023

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This year’s Medical Affairs Professionals of Australasia (MAPA) and Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS) Medical Affairs Summit was held from 8 to 10 November 2023 in Sydney, Australia.


The theme of the summit was ‘Expanding the Horizons of Medical Affairs’. This reflects the expanding realm and influence of Medical Affairs and the opportunities for individuals to grow within the field.

This highlights report shares some of our key takeaways from the parallel workshops and thought-provoking plenaries.

Parallel workshops: key themes and topics

  • Partner with patients or perish Patient engagement was at the front and centre of the summit. The key takeaway related to integrating the patient voice into Medical Affairs’ initiatives (e.g. evidence generation, gathering insights, patient authorship etc.). It’s important to ask: how can Medical Affairs innovate to improve patient impact?
  • The applications of AI are boundless – Medical Affairs can utilize artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital technologies for stakeholder engagement, personalized content delivery and even manuscript development.
  • Professional growth in Medical Affairs – This can be achieved through appropriate mentorship and by following a competency framework. A concept of this framework was endorsed at last year’s summit, while this year a draft framework was presented and delegates were invited to provide feedback. One workshop also gave practical tips on ‘the art of asking powerful questions.’
  • Women’s voices – Women in leadership roles in Medical Affairs shared their life experiences, talked about the people they looked up to, and described the challenges they faced to get to where they are today.
  • Consider hybrid – How do we develop, support and mentor field medical personnel to optimize engagement with healthcare professionals (HCPs), particularly in the digital age and hybrid working world? While face-to-face engagement may be considered preferable, is it always the most convenient (for the customer and for us)?

Behind-the-scenes decisions in the COVID-19 response

Dr Nicholas Coatsworth (former Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Australia) opened the summit with a keynote presentation about health equity in Australia, using COVID-19 as an example.

There has been criticism of how the global pandemic was handled by health authorities and governments. One particular scenario was how the collapse in confidence related to the AstraZeneca vaccine occurred in Australia and how this was ultimately due to the way the vaccine data were communicated to the general public.

Conversely, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were favoured in Australia. Dr Coatsworth said this was “because of the way that the vaccines were being promoted, marketed, and what the discourse was in the public. I found that absolutely fascinating.”

Dr Coatsworth did wonder if the outcomes would have been different if an umbrella organization, like MAPA–MAPS, had been the face of the COVID-19 response (and whether ‘Hemsworth’ would have been a better face than ‘Coatsworth’!).

He went on to offer the pharmaceutical industry some practical considerations on how to achieve health equity in Australia, including:

  • the inclusion of patients from rural and regional areas in Australia in clinical trials, and
  • thinking about ‘productivity’ in the nation’s decision-making on health funding, as the government sees healthcare as a cost, not an investment.

Digital education in the era of artificial intelligence and omnichannel

Julia Walsh (CEO, Brand Medicine International), Steve Snow (Director, Praxhub) and our colleague Steven Inglis (Communications Director, Oxford PharmaGenesis) engaged in a hot topic panel discussion: Digital Education: Incorporating Data Into a Strategy and Executing It’.


The panel discussed how, unsurprisingly, the World Wide Web and social media are sources of information for reimbursed medicines in Australia, which can influence prescribing. HCPs are not immune – they also use ‘Dr Google’. This can bring challenges, such as misinformation, which may result in suboptimal treatment decisions.

The discussion went on to consider if the pharmaceutical industry is late in jumping on the omnichannel bandwagon? Or is compliance a major hurdle in fully implementing omnichannel in Medical Affairs?

Steven offered some insights on how Medical Affairs could get on the bandwagon by mapping their current ‘omnichannel’ activities using a simple framework – the pillars being strategy, technology, content and internal activation.

Publication extenders can form a basis for ‘glocalizing’ content to support the provision of credible, peer-reviewed, bite-sized pieces of medical information. Steven also provided his thoughts on how to circumvent some of the barriers to omnichannel implementation.

Overall, the panel agreed that more should be done to satisfy the needs of patients and   time-poor HCPs to consume credible information, while supporting the rigorous new requirements for 50 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) content annually.

Is ‘patient-centricity’ a tokenistic phrase?

‘Patient-centricity’ is at the heart of the pharmaceutical industry, but are we walking the talk? This was the big question in the thought-provoking panel discussion: ‘Patient-Centred Solutions: Navigating Challenges & Unlocking Value Through Patient Engagement’.

Wendy Lipworth (Professor of Bioethics, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia) considered what it means to engage ‘ethically’ with patients, which segued into a patient perspective where Sharon Winton (CEO, Lymphoma Australia) shared her insights from working with industry for the past 20 years.

There are no secrets in the patient community when it comes to medical and treatment-related information, but Australians are getting this information from other patients on the other side of the globe through closed forums. “We’re all connected now, globally!” said Sharon.

Sometimes patients are finding out about and wanting treatments that are available in other countries, yet are not funded in Australia owing to slow reimbursement decision-making.

After sharing a couple of patient stories, Sharon encouraged Medical Affairs professionals to connect, collaborate and share information with health consumer organizations. She said “We can’t be your best advocates unless we have that information.”

Lastly, Elizabeth de Somer (CEO, Medicines Australia) reminded Medical Affairs professionals that the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct is now a principles-based set of guidelines that does allow engagement with patients and patient advocacy groups as long as it is done compliantly. Elizabeth said “We have to move with the times” in the era of social media.

The digital revolution in Medical Affairs

In the closing general session on Thursday, Mahesh Malalage (Head of Strategy and Innovation, AbbVie), Riaz Abbas (Learning & Performance Lead, JAPAC Medical, Amgen), Menaka De Alwis (Director, Data, Digital & IT AUNZ, Novartis) and Mariam Qayum (Digital Strategy & Customer Engagement Manager ANZ, Teva Pharmaceuticals) gave their insights into ‘Expanding Horizons with Digital Innovations in Medical Affairs.’

Two topics arose from the discussions: digital adoption and customer experience.

Medical Affairs is undergoing a profound digital transformation, moving away from face-to-face interactions and siloed operations. However, it is still perceived to be lagging behind its commercial counterparts regarding the uptake of digital technologies.

Traditionally, commercial teams have led the way with digital initiatives, which Medical Affairs can adapt and learn from. However, there is still an expectation from senior managers/commercial leaders for the provision of metrics for success (e.g. number of opened emails, how soon they were opened etc.) and a demonstration of a return on investment. “Quite some work needs to be done.”

With technologies like AI, big data analytics and omnichannel marketing, Medical Affairs can access and generate personalized content for HCPs, patients and other stakeholders to enhance the customer experience. However, communications are often one-way, despite the pharmaceutical industry claiming to be customer-centric. “To get to our patients, we need to serve our HCPs.”

The dream scenario would be to have a single industry-wide portal of information for HCPs and patients, but this may not be realistic from a business perspective at this time. “If we can change this mindset, that would be a start.”

This was something that Steven Inglis referred to in the hot topic panel discussion as “password fatigue” in the context of having multiple websites/platforms of medical information. Firewalls add barriers for HCPs in accessing the important information required to treat their patients effectively.

What is the ‘real value’ of Medical Affairs?

On Friday, Krishan Thiru (Medical Director ANZ, Pfizer), Jon Zdon (former Associate Medical Director–Medical Excellence APAC, Takeda), Robin England (Associate Director International Medical Excellence, AstraZeneca), Jodi Tainton (Senior Manager, Field Medical Excellence ANZ, Pfizer) and Brigid Waite (Chapter Lead, Roche) talked about ‘How to Present the Value of Medical Affairs’ – as well as the why, when and where.

The panel discussed how Medical Affairs struggles to communicate its value to a company because of their inherent ‘humility’ and the lack of reliable metrics. With more investment going into Medical Affairs, it is important to reframe this conversation to ‘What is the impact (or the so-what factor) of their medical activities?’, particularly during pre-launch.

Commercial teams also need to understand why medical field colleagues are more appropriate over sales field colleagues in visiting HCPs in some contexts.

It was clear that there needs to be regular communication between commercial and medical teams ­to harmonize the way they work. “Not only do we need to work horizontally [country colleagues], but we also need to work vertically [regional/global counterparts].”

To build a case to demonstrate the value of investment in Medical Affairs, we must first demonstrate that there is a need to be met. Secondly, we need to measure the impact. “For a long time we’ve relied on qualitative measures to demonstrate our value … but we now need hard quantitative measures.”

Next, the panel discussed how you need to present and tailor your case and insights to cross-functional and leadership teams. One tip was to use your Commercial Data Analytics team from Global to customize a dashboard for the presentation of your case.

Despite the different roles and responsibilities of commercial and medical teams, “we’re all here to deliver better patient outcomes.” Having a Medical Affairs team that understands other functions, is ‘commercially savvy’ and understands the business acumen is key: “That’s how you earn the respect and that’s how you add value.”

Think divergently! Part two of ‘What do GMs want?’

The summit’s finale session was: ‘Vision 2024: GMs’ Call to Action for a Digital, Patient-Centric Future’.

Building on last year’s workshop, Tori Brown (President & General Manager, Australia, New Zealand & North Asia Pacific, Eli Lilly) and David Henderson (Managing Director, Australia and New Zealand, Biogen) highlighted a trend they had observed where commercial is moving into medical roles and vice versa: “We should really encourage this zigzag career development and capability building, because it’s through these experiences that Medical Affairs professionals will be more rounded, understand the entire enterprise and be able to advocate accordingly.”

Overall, Medical Affairs is moving away from ‘policing’ compliance and regulatory needs.

Tori shared three areas that Medical Affairs professionals should focus on as they become role diverse.

Firstly, they are in a unique position to ‘close the disease gaps and identify unmet needs’ because of their scientific background and strong relationships with patients and HCPs.

Secondly, amplifying the patient voice in product development and trial design will improve patient recruitment and acquire the data for relevant outcomes. “So that the right product goes to the right patient at the right time” said Tori.

Lastly, in relation to the controversial area of ‘equality of medicine access’ in Australia, Tori said that it takes an “average of 466 days” from product approval to reimbursement. Again, Medical Affairs’ understanding of the local market is imperative to closing this gap. It comes down to understanding how a product is valued in a meaningful way.

Expanding horizons and exceeding expectations!

For the second time, Oxford PharmaGenesis was a proud sponsor and exhibitor at the summit, which involved over 280 delegates, 70 faculty members, 29 plenaries, panel discussions and peer-facilitated workshops, and eight organized networking opportunities.

This year’s summit exceeded everyone’s expectations, and it was a busy couple of days on LinkedIn as many people connected with each other! The Oxford PharmaGenesis team was very grateful to have the opportunity to attend the summit – this included our colleague Richard White (Chief Operating Officer, Oxford PharmaGenesis) who travelled from the UK to join our Melbourne team at the summit in Sydney.

The summit also coincided with the PRIME Awards 2023, where Oxford PharmaGenesis was ‘highly commended’ in the Sustained Excellence category for ‘MS Brain Health’, a collaboration between Oxford Health Policy Forum, Oxford PharmaGenesis and MS Australia.

Thank you to everyone who organized the summit, and to everybody we met and connected with – we really enjoyed having so many valuable conversations.

Learn more about Oxford PharmaGenesis’ Medical Affairs expertise here.

Article by Henry Chung (Communications Consultant, Oxford PharmaGenesis), Steven Inglis (Communications Director, Oxford PharmaGenesis), Vanessa Wielgosz (Account Director, Oxford PharmaGenesis) and Richard White (Chief Operating Officer, Oxford PharmaGenesis)


Article by Henry Chung (Communications Consultant, Oxford PharmaGenesis), Steven Inglis (Communications Director, Oxford PharmaGenesis), Vanessa Wielgosz (Account Director, Oxford PharmaGenesis) and Richard White (Chief Operating Officer, Oxford PharmaGenesis)