Can we use a virtual advisory board?

by Stephen D. Lande, PhD


"Why can't we run this meeting as a virtual advisory board?" asks Dr. Apfelbaum who leads a medical affairs team for a new immunology product. "Our budgets are tight and the deadline for this protocol is coming up fast."

His colleague, Dr. Krasner, disagrees, "I don't think we can do it virtually. The advisors will be reading email the whole time and their feedback won't help us."

What's the right answer?

With new and improved online meeting platforms, virtual meetings are relatively simple and inexpensive to setup and run. Even after adding the significant effort and cost of advisor recruitment and content development, a virtual advisory board meeting (VAB) requires far fewer resources (e.g., cost, time, travel, etc.) than an in-person meeting. So, the key question is how well your advisory board objectives can be met using a VAB.

Consider first that VABs can be used before, after, or instead of an in-person meeting.

When used before an in-person meeting, the primary purpose of a VAB is to provide introductory information to advisors and answer their questions. As a result, much less time is spent at the in-person meeting answering background questions, thereby maximizing the time spent focused on the key meeting objectives.

After an in-person meeting, we have used smaller subgroups of advisors for VABs focused on a more targeted topic. For example, we recently conducted an in-person advisory board focused on the overall clinical plan, and study design and key parameters of a proposed Phase 3 clinical study. The post-meeting VAB then focused on obtaining specific feedback and guidance on those study parameters.

When our clients ask us to help determine whether to use a VAB instead of an in-person meeting, we pose the following questions:

  1. Do you need rapid results? A VAB can be organized and recruited more quickly than an in-person meeting.
  2. Can the goals be met with fewer advisors? In order to maximize engagement, we recommend a maximum of six advisors for a VAB, so that all advisors have a greater opportunity to participate.
  3. Are the advisors genuinely interested in the topic? The level of VAB member engagement is directly proportional to their motivation for the topic. The closer the match, the greater the likelihood that key objectives can be met.
  4. Do you have a relationship with advisors? An in-person meeting provides an opportunity for the client to cultivate relationships with advisors, which will facilitate future collaborations including VABs.
  5. How many objectives are planned? In-person meetings can cover broad territory, which is more difficult in a time-limited VAB.
  6. How much foundational information is required? The more time required to provide background information to enable advisors to answer key questions, the greater the need for an in-person meeting.
  7. How tightly constrained is your budget? VABs typically cost about one-third the price of in-person meetings.
  8. Are the participants widely dispersed geographically? Beyond the cost advantages, VABs may be a more effective use of time for all advisory board participants.

In the case described above, Drs. Apfelbaum and Krasner answered these questions and decided that a VAB was the best choice to meet their needs.

Why? First, while the budget was adequate for an in-person meeting, the project required rapid turnaround. Second, the client was able to distill out meeting objectives that were highly-focused. Third, the advisors' interest in immunology clinical trial design and existing relationships with the client increased their likelihood of meeting engagement. The VAB proved to be very productive, and was followed up by several telephone interviews to finalize a few unanswered questions.

How do you decide between an in-person meeting and a VAB? How have VABs worked well or disappointed you?


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