Sir Andrew Dillon, NICE's first — and only — chief executive to step down next year
Using a laptop borrowed from his former employer, South London’s St George’s Hospital, Sir Andrew Dillon set about establishing NICE — launched by the then health secretary Frank Dobson — in 1999. On Thursday, the UK cost-effectiveness watchdog said its first and only chief executive — Dillon — is stepping down in March 2020.
Back in the day, decisions about which drugs and interventions were funded by the National Health Service (NHS) were made at the local level, but this ‘postcode prescribing’ system was fraught with skewed healthcare deployment making the structure unsustainable. A national system was deemed necessary — and NICE was formed to bridge that gap.
NICE got off to a controversial start. In its seminal months, the agency determined that the flu treatment Relenza was not cost-effective, citing insufficient evidence that the product reduced the severity of the illness for the immunocompromised: the elderly and asthma sufferers. The maker of Relenza, Glaxo Wellcome (erstwhile GSK $GSK), threatened to leave the UK if the decision was not reversed — but NICE stuck to its guns. GSK never left — in fact, the drugmaker’s global headquarters in Brentford, Middlesex was opened by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2002.
Under Dillon, NICE’s reputation as a stern but typically fair arbiter of what qualifies as NHS worthy has grown over time, as has the remit of its authority. The agency has made a tangible impact on patients — from improving outcomes and saving costs by ensuring suspected cancer cases are seen by specialists urgently to reducing the level of inappropriate antibiotic prescribing at the primary care level to tackle antimicrobial resistance. Recently, NICE has come under pressure for spurning Vertex’s $VRTX cystic fibrosis medicine and GW Pharma’s $GWPH cannabis-derived drug for rare forms of pediatric epilepsy.
“The role of Chief Executive of NICE must be one of the most challenging and potentially controversial in British public life. Sir Andrew has carried out this role for 20 enormously successful years, and everyone who knows him – whether in government, the life sciences industry, or in health and social care – is full of admiration for his calm and skillful leadership,” NICE’s Chair, Sir David Haslam, said in a statement. “He was there right at the birth of NICE, and will leave it as an internationally respected, world leading, and hugely influential organisation. That’s quite a legacy…”
The Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) — which is recognized by the government as the industry body negotiating on behalf of the branded pharmaceutical industry for a range of things, including the pricing scheme for medicines in the UK — responded to the news of Dillon’s departure with a glowing review.
“Sir Andrew has led NICE with a laser focus on establishing how the latest medicines can benefit patients and the NHS. He has played a central role in building the credibility of the organisation, insisting on transparent processes, and a continuous dialogue with all stakeholders, recognising that as the science evolves, NICE needs to evolve too,” ABPI chief Mike Thompson said in a statement.
NICE’s board plans to advertise the post during the autumn.
The announcement comes days after it was revealed that Ian Hudson, chief executive of the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), is stepping down. Hudson — who spent 18 years with the agency, including six years as chief executive — will make his exit in October along with John Wilkinson, the director of devices at MHRA.