A top Pfizer ($PFE) executive joined the board of a National Health Service Trust in England, triggering questions about potential conflicts of interest, an NHS-focused news service reported on Wednesday.
Pfizer UK's managing director, Erik Nordkamp, will spend up to three days per month advising King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust on strategy, according to a King's release. The trust, considered one of England's most prestigious, is one of many charged with overseeing hospital service, spending, and quality control.
King's says Nordkamp's experience will help the organization during a time of intense pressure and change. "His track record in business and organizational transformation speaks for itself, and helps to strengthen the King's Board at a critical time," said Lord Bob Kerslake, chair of the trust. "I'm delighted he has decided to join the board, and look forward to working with him."
But NHS watchdog groups say it's "not appropriate" to bring a Pfizer exec onto the hospital trust's board. Nordkamp's presence gives industry too much say, according to Dr. Jacky Davis from Keep our NHS Public.
"Clearly his presence on the board is likely to influence its attitude to the relationship between the private sector and the NHS," Davis told the news site OurNHS, "and increase the influence of the pharmaceutical industry within the trust and the broader NHS."
The hospital trust said Nordkamp's role at Pfizer won't interfere with his work on the board. The board has policies to fight conflicts of interest, the trust said. "All non-executive directors are required to declare any interests pertaining to matters for discussion at the start of board or committee meetings," the trust told OurNHS. "In the event a non-executive director declares an interest concerning an agenda item, they will be asked to abstain from the discussion."
Nordkamp's appointment comes amid controversy over rapidly rising drug prices, and Pfizer is one of the companies whose price increases have come into the spotlight. Analyst reports highlighted about 100 U.S. price hikes on Pfizer drugs in recent weeks.
In England, pricey new Pfizer meds have been stiff-armed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. The company's lung cancer drug Xalkori (crizotinib) and blood cancer med Bosulif (bosutinib) are among them; its anticoagulant Eliquis, sold in partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb, was deemed cost-effective, however.
Pfizer also was involved in a kerfuffle over generic competition for its seizure drug Lyrica; the company wrote NHS doctors to warn them against prescribing the generic for neuropathic pain--a use still covered by a Pfizer patent--and threatening to sue if necessary. The company persuaded the NHS to direct doctors to comply, and later agreed to cover the costs of switching any generic prescriptions back to the Lyrica brand.
Meanwhile, the company ran into trouble with U.K. regulators for an agreement with Flynn Pharma on the seizure drug phenytoin sodium; according to the Competition and Markets Authority, Pfizer handed off the marketing rights to Flynn Pharma, but supplied the drug to that company at increasingly higher prices, triggering price hikes by Flynn. The agency asked both companies last August to respond to the allegations.
Pfizer isn't the only pharma company with a representative on an NHS board, OurNHS points out. Former pharma executives also serve on several trust boards.
For his part, Nordkamp says he's looking forward to the job. "I am honoured and delighted to join such a respected and internationally recognised health care organisation and look forward to contributing to its future success," he said in a company release.
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