Making it Work

Axis Consulting looks to double headcount as demand surges for new drug evaluations

The Dublin-based firm assists pharmaceutical companies with the regulatory scrutiny drugs must endure to get onto the market

Brenda Dooley founder and chief executive of Axis Consulting Picture: Paul Sherwood Photography

Brenda Dooley works in a niche within a niche. The founder and chief executive of Axis Consulting, currently based in Edinburgh, set up her pharma-focused consultancy firm in 2012 after many years working for Pfizer.

“Health economics is a broad area,” she said. “But there’s a corner of health economics called health technology assessment and that’s exactly where we are. It’s not well understood by many – my poor mother still says to me: What on Earth do you do?”

What Axis does is develop economic assessments of new drugs on behalf of pharma companies, which are then presented to health authorities with a view to gaining state investment, allowing them to be sold by health services like the HSE and NHS.

“Our job is to help present the evidence in such a way that the state can make the right decision, and therefore create access for fantastic new medicines for patients,” Dooley said.

In Ireland, the authority responsible is the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE), who assess whether the drugs present value for money for the taxpayer, but presenting such a comprehensive document is no mean feat.

Fact Find

Founded by: Brenda Dooley in 2012

Staff: 15

Revenue in 2023: €1.5 million

Tailored submissions are also submitted to UK agencies, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the Scottish Medicines Consortium, which perform similar duties to the NCPE, but for the NHS in Britain.

The production of the documents, which can run up to 200 pages, is a laborious process, and a variety of medical writers, health economists, and modellers, who calculate the expected economic and quality of life benefits from the drug, are needed.

The length of time it takes for those submissions to be reviewed by the NCPE, however, is a source of frustration for Dooley.

“I’m always talking to the authorities and saying: Can we not speed this up? Because I’m always thinking, there’s a patient waiting to get their hands on a drug to, God forbid, treat their lung cancer or breast cancer. That’s front of my mind always,” she said.

Axis, which has grown to 15 staff, is planning to double its headcount over the next two years, expanding their array of specialists and projecting major growth, two-thirds of which will come from the UK market.

Enterprise Ireland (EI) had been “absolutely superb” in this regard, said Dooley.

“Obviously the financial supports are helpful, but it isn’t all about finance either. It can often be about connecting to a network and community of other businesses,” she said.

Dooley said that businesses in Ireland were “very lucky” to have that help, adding that she hadn’t come across a body for UK businesses that offers a comparable level of support.

But the growth the firm had seen – reaching €1.5 million in turnover last year - wouldn’t go on forever, said Dooley.

“We don’t want to grow to 70 or 80 people, and that’s very deliberate. For us, it’s really about being able to provide a highly personal service to our clients,” she said.

The firm, which has its office in Dublin city centre, allows its staff to work almost completely remotely, and has submitted on behalf of almost all the big players in the sector, Dooley said.

But the thread that runs through each evaluation is variety, she said, which keeps her excited and passionate about her job.

“It’s a very varied business. One day we’re working on a very rare disease that really none of us have heard of, another day we’re working in a cancer area or in something for asthma. It’s a really brilliant, varied space”.

This Making It Work article is produced in partnership with Enterprise Ireland