A number of European public-health and transparency campaigners believe that conflict-of-interest rules may have been breached with the EMA’s decision to allow its former executive director, Thomas Lönngren, to take up an advisory role within the private pharmaceutical sector. Lönngren left EMA only a few weeks ago and has taken up several positions with private sector companies, including a specialized consultancy in helping pharmaceutical companies with product approvals for the European market. A letter outlining the reservations has been sent to European Commissioner John Dalli on behalf of a number of organizations, including the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), Health Action International (HAI) Europe, the International Society of Drug Bulletins (ISDB) and other public-health advocates.
In particular, the campaigners are concerned about the short space of time between Lönngren’s position at EMA and his new employment positions, and question whether due consideration was given to the potential for conflicts of interest between the responsibilities and portfolios of a former EMA executive director and a strategic advisor to pharma companies whose products his previous role would have evaluated and authorized.
“There are currently high-profile dossiers on pharmaceutical policies under discussions, including the revision of the Clinical Trial Directive, where we have concerns that a conflict of interest may arise involving Mr. Lönngren's past and current employment,” said the letter. “A former head of the EU drug regulatory agency has an extensive network and knowledge in the field, and this opens up the potential to influence the outcome of these dossier discussions.”
Lönngren informed EMA’s management board of his intention to take up new employment roles in December 2010. In a letter, he also emphasized that there would be no conflict of interest, breach of code of conduct, nor any other breach of his legal contractual obligations as a departing EMA employee. The EMA board approved of his activities.
However, the campaigners believe that the EMA failed to adequately check the potential for a conflict of interest. Olivier Hoedeman, on behalf of ALTER-EU, said in a statement: “When former EU Commission officials pass through the revolving door—as happens frequently—it is essential that clear checks are made to ensure they are not exploiting their knowledge and contacts to benefit the private sector. All too often, such conflicts of interest appear to be overlooked, showing that tougher rules and more rigorous enforcement are required.”