Longson trades in NICE role for position at British pharma lobby

NICE’s loss is the pharma industry’s gain in the U.K. as Carole Longson, a respected authority in drug value assessment, has joined the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry in a research leadership role.

Longson will head up the association’s research, medical and innovation operations to “shape and develop UK pharmaceutical science policy,” according to a release from ABPI. In the role, she’ll also work “to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of innovation in medicines research, development and manufacturing now and into the future.”

At the U.K.’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Longson was director of the Health Technology Evaluation Centre, where she was responsible for ensuring NHS England got good value for its money in pharmaceuticals. That responsibility often meant turning away promising therapies on cost concerns and entering into tough negotiations with drugmakers to get better pricing.

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Drug execs from companies like Pfizer, Eisai and Janssen were sometimes very vocally critical of those decisions.  

However, NICE assessments were well regarded in other countries around Europe, which sometimes considered NICE reviews for their own value decisions.

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But NICE doesn't only consider price when it reviews a new drug. Under Longson’s watch, the agency recently signed off on GlaxoSmithKline’s €594,000 gene therapy Strimvelis, which treats the ultrarare disease ADA-SCID, or “bubble boy” syndrome. In that drug review, the agency recommended the pioneering drug because of its clinical effectiveness and because the small patient pool wouldn’t bust the budget.

Now, with her move, Longson joins an association that represents pharma companies by working to convince officials of the value of new medicines. ABPI President Mike Thompson said in a statement that Longson's “scientific research and academic experience, along with her integrity, perspective and vision can really help us continue to transform the pharmaceutical industry in the U.K.” Longson is entering a newly created position at ABPI.

For his part, NICE chief executive Sir Andrew Dillon said he’s “very sorry to lose her from NICE, but I wish her well in her new roles, where she will have the opportunity to influence scientific endeavour in other parts of the life sciences system.”

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Further, because her appointment comes as the U.K. works through Brexit, ABPI Innovation Board Chairman Neil Weir said it’s “vital that the pharmaceutical industry is able to closely and constructively engage with public sector partners ... to ensure the UK builds upon its strengths to become as attractive an environment for Research & Development in life sciences as possible."

Longson’s job switch in the U.K. comes the same week as a Kaiser Health News report on the “revolving door” between government and pharma in Washington, D.C. According to the publication, hundreds of former congressional staffers are working at drugmakers or their lobbying companies, while some industry staffers are now working in government. Also this week, former Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar won Senate confirmation as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Before her time at NICE, Longson was a research lead at GSK for 7 years.