Tomkins picks up brief for AstraZeneca cancer drug

Former Weber Shandwick European healthcare chief Lee Tomkins has taken an in-house PR role at drugs giant AstraZeneca International.

Tomkins has assumed a ‘permanent freelance’ role at AstraZeneca’s product strategy and licensing division and has been hired to bolster the PR effort for controversial lung cancer drug Iressa.

Iressa gained approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in May. EU regulators are due to rule on the drug, which is taken in tablet form once a day to treat advanced cases of non-small-cell lung cancer, within the next two months.

Tomkins said it was a ‘crucial period’ for Iressa, for which she will work alongside AstraZeneca’s retained global agency for the drug, Shire Health International, on PR issues.

In May, the FDA ruled that Iressa must warn of the dangers of side-effects, which include a form of pneumonia that has killed 246 Iressa users in Japan.

Tomkins conceded that it was ‘not a drug without issues’, but added: ‘It’s genuinely a drug that makes a huge difference to patients.’

Tomkins, who reports to director of global product PR Cathy Kernen, will be based at AstraZeneca’s Cheshire offices until next June, when she plans to return to her home in Cornwall for the summer.

Tomkins quit her former role as Weber Shandwick UK and European healthcare head, and executive V-P of global healthcare, in July (PRWeek, 25 July).

WS deputy CEO Sally Ward said the agency had now drawn up a shortlist to replace Tomkins, but no announcement was immiment.

* WS has appointed The Sun’s former consumer editor Paul Crosbie as a part-time consultant. Crosbie formerly worked as consumer affairs correspondent on the Daily Express. He spent nine years as consumer editor of The Sun.

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