Thursday, 8 October 2015

Public Health in Europe: Where are We?

During the European People’s Party (EPP) public hearing at the Parliament, Director from DG RTD, Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, MEP Françoise Grossetête and Sanofi representative Stefan Oelrich debated public health in the EU. © Photo: EPP

The EU runs a number of tangible programs and policies aiming to secure health in Europe. With the fast pace of ageing population, Europe is prioritising public health concerns. Several programs have been put in place aiming to improve European’s health life standards as well as to boost Europe’s economy. 

To celebrate 50 years of EU Pharmaceutical legislation, the Commission organised a conference in Brussels, convening high representatives from the health sector. During the session, the main topic on the table was one of Juncker’s priorities following his ascension to power – better regulation. 

On May 2015, the Commission set up the REFIT Platform with the purpose of managing a dialogue with Member States (MS) and stakeholders on refining EU legislation. When it comes to the health sector, patients want a faster access to medicines and regulators want safer medicines. Also of greatest importance was the approached topic of how to better communicate science to a lay audience. 

Public health governors and delegates believe that communicating current issues is a growing priority for researchers worldwide. The final session ended with the debate about pharmaceutical developments in the 21st century focused on perspectives, challenges and innovation. Moreover, an evolutionary step from the pharma industry is the upcoming disclosure of payments from the industry to healthcare professionals. Very often with a negative connotation, the pharma industry has made a bold move by announcing this future measure. 

 EPP Public Hearing on the Pharma Sector 

In July, the EPP group organised a public hearing, EU Cohesion Policy, which helps Member States investing in health system reform, health for employability, and reducing health inequalities. Member States have allocated €5 billion to health infrastructure between 2007-13. 

Recently in September, the EPP group hearing “The Future of Medicine” convened speakers from the healthcare sector with the biggest aim to launch the pharmaceutical debate back to the public arena. Moderated by MEP Françoise Grossetêtê, the hearings embraced areas such as therapeutic innovation, patient access and competitiveness in the EU. 

Director from DG RTD Dr Ruxandra Draghia-Akli admitted, “Research and innovation, a very highly innovative pharmaceutical industry, is represented by the industry but few small enterprises,” acknowledging the need of using other new financial instruments to leverage SME. “The aim of the European Health Horizon 202O – the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme - is to contribute to better health for all, aiming to support the competitiveness of the health sector with its ageing population and increased disease burden,” added Ruxandra. 

Dr Draghia-Akli numbered a few aims to achieve in the future, ranging from innovative approaches for health ageing populations, exploiting technology and entrepreneurship and opening innovation systems where the strategic research agenda is based on the WHO report, meaning priority medicines and vaccines for the EU and the world. “We need to use money very wisely. Money would allow for some synergies,” she went on. 

EU health policy was debated between experts from the healthcare sector at the European Parliament on September 30th. © EPP

Innovative Medicines 

With the involvement of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), another stakeholder that contributes to the development of medicines, drugs for anti-microbial resistance, neurodegenerative diseases and investing in personalised medicines - to be able to reduce the incidence of diabetes and cancer - are already a reality under construction in the EU. Moreover, the IMI II, based on the success of the IMI I, is working on a project, aiming to faster delivery of medicines while securing the sustainability of healthcare systems across the EU. 

According to EFPIA, innovative medicines offer a large range of value including improved outcomes for patients, health system value and broader collective value. All of these elements should be considered in pricing and reimbursement decisions, however, “each MS has its own priorities and places different emphasis on each area of value.” When it comes to medicines pricing – a current hot topic in the public health debate – prices in different countries differ according to differences in the burden of diseases, health system preferences, market structures and supply chain, amongst other factors. EFPIA believes that “MS should take reasonable measures to facilitate the introduction of effective differentiated pricing policies that reflect variations in ability to pay at national level.“ 

 Priority Medicines 

Stefan Oelrich, Sanofi’s general manager, gave some lights on a EU integrated policy approach by introducing the PRIME. The PRIME (“PRIority MEDicines”) scheme aims to support development of innovative medicines for unmet medical needs, accelerating assessment by reducing development time. Already presented at the EMA Management Board, it will soon be presented at the Commission and STAMP, still reliant on the CHMP for final review and endorsement. 

It is expected to be launched on early 2016 and will come along with a guidance package. Oelrich said “for some years the Parliament has been silent regarding the pharma sector,” and pointed out the importance of the pharma industry to EU’s economy. The Sanofi’s delegate proposed a new European strategic dialogue. “Angela Merkel has put in her government programming to start the dialogue, this dialogue will produce outcome but more than anything it helps to create trust amongst the stakeholders,” he added.

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