As Europe tries to recover after a lost decade of economic growth, it is ardently trying to reverse a decline in manufacturing and research. With industrial output stuttering, is it contagious? Has Europe’s pharmaceutical sector also caught a cold? The alarm bell was rung last week in the European Parliament, during an EPP hearing on the “Future of Medicine” on 30 September, hosted by MEP Françoise Grossetête. However, the meeting was not a litany of gloom and doom: what the discussion focused on is the potential of Europe’s pharmaceutical sector to kick start Europe’s engine once again. So how do we get there? In this blog post, I’ll share what I heard and took away from the meeting.
One pragmatic answer to the challenge of getting the European pharmaceutical industry on the front foot is to pause and rethink the current way of doing things. As MEP Françoise Grossetête put it, policies that have not been sufficiently thought through can bring us to the wrong and totally unintended outcomes. A strong EU pharmaceutical sector is vital to ensure Europe’s disease prevention capabilities and preparedness to face a growing burden on national health systems. There is an urgent need to envisage a sectoral, long-term, industrial strategy for the pharmaceutical sector to boost its contribution to the European economy, foster medical research and facilitate patient access to medicines and treatments.
To regain its place as the world’s pharmacy, the EU needs to address several challenges. To start with, Europe is lagging significantly behind is in its investment in research. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) invests $30 billion annually in medical research while the EU’s Horizon 2020 has invested €7 billion in health research. Another challenge is improving global regulatory collaboration and streamlining administrative requirements in Member States, which is essential to ensure patients have timely access to medicines. It is encouraging to hear that the European Medicines Agency and the network of national authorities have made this a priority for the next 5 years. The importance of the EU pharmaceutical sector was recognized by the European Commission as one of the gems of European industry with regard to economic growth. Not only did the sector produce an output of € 220 billion and employed 800 000 people in 2012, but the contribution is even wider if we take into account the hidden benefits of good health which imply increased productivity across all sectors in the economy: sick employees are back at work sooner, and many carers can get back into employment if their loved ones are in better health.
Health is seen as a cost, but it should be seen as an investment. Former Irish Health Minister Mary Harney at @EPPGroup hearing on EU Pharma— Lars Ole Løcke (@LoeckeEPP) September 30, 2015
This renewed engagement at EU level on boosting the European pharmaceutical sector can draw on past experience with high-level platforms involving the pharmaceutical sector at EU and at member state level. Take for example Belgium or Germany, where representatives from the pharmaceutical sector sat at the table with the government and other key players to –respectively- discuss health reforms and to build a continuous dialogue. What these dialogues also do is increase predictability for all those involved. And predictability is a necessary precondition for investment. As Nathalie Moll of EuropaBio put it: “tell us how it is and we’ll work to it - but don’t keep changing it”.
But crystal ball gazing is all very well; some speakers flagged that it is time to break the silence and restructure the EU health policy dialogue between key stakeholders. As MEP Grossetête highlighted, burning issues for patients and for the pharmaceutical industry are now on the table. What remains is to establish a forum to discuss them and find solutions. We must act now and act fast.