From The Editor | July 30, 2014

WIB Profile: What Pharma Scientists Can Learn From A Lilly Specialty Sales Rep

By Ed Miseta, Chief Editor, Clinical Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @EdClinical


When I first spoke with Laura McClung of Eli Lilly & Company about a Women in Bio (WIB) profile article, I almost wrote her off. Being involved in the sales force for Lilly, I initially felt she was too far outside the drug discovery process to contribute meaningful information to my readers. However, after having just one discussion with her, I immediately changed my mind.

As McClung points out in this piece, many sales reps for Big Pharma have scientific or medical backgrounds. This makes them some of the most qualified individuals to advise doctors and clinicians on the medicines that will best meet the needs of patients. Their experience working with prescribers also makes them well qualified to provide feedback to those involved in the drug discovery process on what is needed by doctors and patients on the front lines.      

Ed Miseta: Tell us about your background and your current position at Lilly.

Laura McClung, Field Based Sales Associate, Eli Lilly & Company

Laura McClung: Following graduate school, I began my career as a research scientist in academia leading a cardiovascular physiology laboratory and teaching. Over time, I found myself wanting to work in an environment that had a more direct impact on patient care and very thoughtfully left academia for a specialty sales role at Eli Lilly & Company. From a sales perspective, I have the privilege of serving patients and healthcare providers with Lilly medicines and resources, which in turn helps fund our innovative pipeline. The work that I do at Lilly feeds my passion for innovation, which drew me to Lilly seven years ago.

My most important responsibilities are ultimately to the patients that start a Lilly medicine, as well as to the clinicians that prescribe them. It is my job to provide support and education to healthcare providers to ensure a patient has the best chance of improved outcomes.

Miseta: What would drug developers be surprised to learn is the most difficult aspect of your job?

McClung: I think they would be surprised by the constant challenges I face working against the stigma and perceptions of the pharmaceutical industry. So many positive changes have been made over the last decade within the pharmaceutical industry, and it currently operates in a highly regulated environment. Yet, pharmaceutical company reputations continue to suffer, and the feet on the ground feel the brunt of this. Many healthcare providers still view pharmaceutical sales representatives as “pushing” medications and having their own agenda, even if they’ve never met the individual. In reality, pharmaceutical sales representatives often have a healthcare background, act with high integrity, and have a sole focus on improving patient outcomes and making life better for people that need help.

Another major challenge is getting time to talk to clinicians. The demands of their jobs are increasing and the healthcare environment is changing at an alarming rate. Increasing pressures to keep up reduces the amount of time a clinician has to stop and talk to pharmaceutical company representatives about medications and resources for patients.

Miseta: What is the most common complaint you hear from doctors about medicines?

McClung: Healthcare providers are commonly frustrated about the current payer environment where they feel that they have very little control over the medicines they prescribe for their patients. The medication ultimately prescribed is most often dictated by a patient’s prescription drug plan. This is especially frustrating in cases where a physician knows a specific medication is the best choice for the patient, but the medication isn’t covered. Sometimes they are forced to turn to a different medication that is covered by the drug plan and is more affordable for the patient, but may not produce the best outcome. Physicians feel that they’ve lost some of their medical authority and aren’t able to freely exercise their expertise.

Miseta: If you had a group of developers sitting in front of you right now, what is the best piece of advice you would have for them?

McClung: A drug has zero value unless it actually gets to the right patient. You can produce the most efficacious and safest medication to treat a specific disease, but if patients don’t have access to it, there is no value for anyone. The first piece of advice I would offer would be to work closely with your organization’s managed healthcare services teams to facilitate favorable formulary positioning at the time of approval.

Secondly, I would offer that there’s a desire and need for therapies with novel mechanisms of action. Healthcare providers (especially primary care and internal medicine physicians) have a heavy responsibility to be knowledgeable about multiple disease states and the available medications. Adding another “me too” medication adds little value to their overall toolbox to attack diseases.

Miseta: What do you believe would be a good way for those in development and those in sales to interact more with each other to share ideas on the drug development process? Would there be any benefits from such an interaction?

McClung: These two worlds operate in completely different systems, one on the developmental/clinical side and the other on the commercial/customer facing side. The benefit in allowing these two worlds to interact more lies in connecting the developers to the ears and eyes on the ground that hear and see firsthand the demands of the current environment. Having these interactions could provide ideas that help shape the development or direction of the research. Bringing diverse perspectives from both groups to discuss challenges at hand could lead to improved problem solving and innovative solutions.

From an organizational and company culture perspective, understanding the overall structure and operational flow within a company is crucial to employee connectedness and aligning on the vision and mission. Understanding the business as a whole (all parts of the business) helps provide context, which is directly tied to employee engagement when big decisions are being made or strategies are being pushed out. I believe there is value in sales representatives connecting with and hearing the challenges that drug developers face, as well as, value in drug developers connecting with and hearing about the challenges that sales representatives face. When company culture is impacted by shared attributes, beliefs, and employee empowerment, there is certain value in employee connections outside the scope of one’s role within the organization.

 Miseta: Tell us how being a member of WIB has helped with your career?

McClung: Women In Bio has been one of my greatest resources and support systems over the last two years. Not only have I grown and developed as a leader, I have formed valuable relationships with trusted mentors and served as a mentor to other women in the life sciences community. I’ve also gained perspective by stepping outside of my own internal corporate environment and broadening my knowledge of the overall pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. It is an honor to serve in this capacity.