Former EMA director's new position raises conflict of interest questions
The European Medicines Agency (EMA)’s decision to allow its former executive director, Thomas Lonngren, to take up an advisory role within the private pharmaceutical sector—just weeks after leaving his position at EMA—risks conflicts of interest, campaigners have claimed.
According to a report in PharmaTimes, in a joint letter sent to John Dalli, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, a group of public health and transparency campaigners expressed concern the EMA did not adequately follow the procedures outlined in the European Union (EU) Staff Regulations, which are designed to prevent undue influence in the medical regulatory process.
Lonngren stepped down as EMA executive director at the end of December and, in a letter dated Dec. 28, he told the chairman of the agency’s management board, Pat O’Mahony, his intention to take a consultant role within the private pharmaceutical sector as of Jan. 1, 2011.
“I am very conscious of my obligations and commitments to the EMA, and can assure you that in my new role there will be no conflict of interest, breach of code of conduct or any of my other legal contractual obligations, as a departing employee of the EMA,” wrote Lonngren.
O’Mahony responded the agency had “no objections to these activities, having regard to your assurances that they do not cause a conflict of interest nor breach the code of conduct or any other aspects of Staff Regulations.”
But prior to approving his future ambitions, the EMA board did not request any further details from Lonngren concerning his activities, or impose any form of restriction to prevent a conflict of interest arising, said the letter to Commissioner Dalli, which is signed by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), Health Action International (HAI) Europe, the International Society of Drug Bulletins (ISDB), the European Consumers’ Organization (BEUC) and the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).
The groups questioned the lack of “cooling-off” period between Lonngren’s change of employment and expressed concern that this may result in a conflict of interest in the field of medical regulations at the EU level.
To date, Lonngren’s consultancy posts have included working for NDA Advisory Services, an agency that specializes in helping pharmaceutical companies obtain regulatory approval to sell their products in Europe.
According to Katrina Perehudoff of HAI Europe, the EMA “appears to have failed to adequately check the potential for a conflict of interest arising from Thomas Lonngren’s decision to establish his own consultancy and other new jobs.” Jorg Schaaber of ISDB added: “given the very clear overlap between Mr Lonngren’s previous activities and his proposed new roles, surely further questions should have been asked—and some form of restriction imposed.”