SSI Strategy Culture Report – 2021

“I’ve found that it’s usually not the ‘what’ or the ‘how’ that will get me where I need to go with a Senior leader. It’s the why. They want to understand the why behind it.” Rachel Couchenour, VP, Global Medical Affairs, Travere Therapeutics.

Working cross-functionally. Some would call it a skill. Others would say it’s a talent. For our guest on Episode 13 of the Emerging Biotech Leader, it’s her natural way of being. During her 20+ year career, Rachel Couchenour has held the titles of Assistant Professor, Medical Therapeutic Liaison, Sr Director of Medical Affairs, and now, Vice President of Global Medical Affairs at Travere Therapeutics.

Using Rachel’s experience as a focal point, this episode explores the value of working cross-functionally in emerging biotechs, especially concerning a career in Medical Affairs. Kim and Ramin ask all the right questions, especially uncovering how an investment in Medical Affairs should never be brushed off or perceived as a “nice to have.”

Our guest and hosts help emerging Biotech leaders truly understand the impact and significance of Medical Affairs on patients and practitioners. Conversely, they also help Medical Affairs reinforce their value across stakeholders, internal validation, and launches.
These are just a few key points touched on during Episode 13. Read below for more! And as always, we thank you for tuning in and being here.

A Day In The Life of Medical Affairs

To say the Medical Affairs organization has many moving parts is putting it mildly.

On any given day, Rachel and her team are responsible for all of the activities and strategies within the Medical Affairs organization at Travere. Functions within her purview include education, scientific communications, evidence generation, medical information, and all the other capabilities that the Medical Affairs organization needs.

On the importance of these areas, Kim reminds us of the end result; that we’re all patients, and as patients, we benefit greatly from
the work of the Medical Affairs team. Elaborating further on this, Kim shared:

“I lean in a lot to the idea that if I were bringing my parent to a physician, I would like to assume that the physician knows the best possible treatment on the market available for whatever they have to diagnose my family with…And they know how to get it, and they have the entire path in front of them. And the only way they can do that is if Medical Affairs are showing up and doing their job. It’s the only function that exists solely to make sure that the baseline assumption as a patient or as a caregiver holds true.”
Rachel shared this advice for Medical Affairs peers in other organizations who want to keep sight of their impact.
“I want to start by saying that we, as Medical Affairs professionals, should never underestimate the value of our work in a successful launch. If we think of ourselves as a critical partner, that helps you get in the right mindset because I think mindset is a really big aspect of this.”

If you’re in Medical Affairs and want a tip for keeping your mindset in check, listen out for Rachel’s sticky note story.
On Medical Affairs and Stakeholder Alignment

With a deeper understanding of how much Medical Affairs handles and contributes, Ramin started to examine Medical Affairs’ role in a biotech launch further.

“Obviously, everything is aligned with the overall brand strategy and enterprise strategy, but Medical Affairs are the ones that are on the ground driving it. How do you use stakeholder management to make sure that you have a strong launch readiness strategy?”

Once again, Rachel tied back the reliance on cross-functionality. Using her background and career as an example, she emphasizes how cross-functional collaboration and experience translate into a better understanding of what your stakeholders need and how you can be of value. Of particular importance was this clear advice: once you understand what’s important to them, you will speak their language better.

“You know, they may not always speak our language of Medical Affairs, and it may take more than one engagement cross-functionally for them to fully see the value of why we may need to do a Symposia at a Congress–that maybe we hadn’t planned to do. They may believe that the MSLs can do all the education that’s needed. So sometimes, when you explain that you can reach thousands of individuals versus hundreds, that’s what’s critical to them. It helps to speak their language versus the Medical Affairs lingo.”

One final reminder from Rachel on the role of Medical Affairs in a launch:

“Medical Affairs is the one department that should be and is the leading edge out there to prepare the market, to understand the disease the way that we see it, and also to understand the treatment landscape.”

On What The Future Holds For Medical Affairs

Rachel offers this insight if a career in Medical Affairs is your end goal.

“I often encourage people to look laterally because sometimes to go up in an organization, you need to move laterally to have shared experiences with people that you want to partner with. An example I’ll give was still technically within Medical Affairs. It was a small startup company. I was the first of one of two Medical Affairs hires at that organization. They didn’t need as much work from a traditional Medical Affairs person. We weren’t doing a lot of medical education. We were doing a lot of scientific communications. We didn’t need to publish data, but they needed support in their clinical department. I learned so much in clinical from the clinical operations and the clinical development team at that organization. And I think that also served me really well in Medical Affairs.”
What other skills can serve you well, especially as the demand for Medical Affairs becomes greater and greater with each new biotech launching? Excellent communication skills. Both verbal and across digital mediums, too.

“To get to that omnichannel type of educational approach, we’re going to need people with a digital skill set. Patients are becoming more empowered, and they need to have the information. And I think it’s incumbent upon us in the same way that we feel that accountability with KOLs and ATPs, we should also feel that same thing for the patient and caregiver community.”

Now that you’ve read our recap, we’d love to hear: has this changed your understanding of Medical Affairs’ role in biotech? We’ll be back with more interviews for you soon!