Improving Europe’s health biotechnology sector– an innovation ecosystem bucket list

Guest blog from Jeremy Morgan, International Vice President, Lilly Diabetes. Jeremy is member of the Board of The European Association for Bio-Industries (EuropaBio) and Vice-Chair of EuropaBio’s Healthcare Council.

Over the course of the European Biotech Week, there will be much celebration around how biological medicines and vaccines are bringing major improvements to the quality of life of millions of Europeans; and how this growing segment of the pharmaceutical industry is creating a more prosperous Europe.  While it is important to applaud what has been achieved, we need to work together to ensure that we set the right conditions – the right biotech “innovation ecosystem” - to improve the path from lab to patient with the right incentives to encourage further breakthroughs.

Here is my “bucket list” to improve Europe’s innovation ecosystem for the healthcare biotech sector: boosting innovation, removing unnecessary regulatory hurdles and creating a more sustainable and competitive environment.

The first item on my bucket list starts appropriately in the labs.  Today, Europe’s scientists involved in health biotechnology R&D can access funding and opportunities to collaborate through the EU's flagship Research and Innovation programme, Horizon 2020 as well as IMI II, Europe’s highly innovative public private partnership. But the recent decision of the European Commission to cut the amount of funding earmarked for Horizon 2020 is a concern.  Investing in health biotechnology is both an investment in the wellness of the people of Europe and also in the health of our economy.  Let it be noted that just as Europe plans to shrink its funding to science, the US plans to increase the budget of the National Institutes for Health by $10 Billion over the next 5 years.

The second item on my bucket list is about how efficiently biological medical innovation reaches patients.  In recent years, the healthcare biotechnology industry has led to outstanding medical advances resulting in major improvements to the quality of life of millions of patients. Biological medicines have become key treatment options for many chronic conditions such as diabetes and anaemia, and the new standard of care for other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. 

Biotechnology is also increasingly focusing on what is called “personalized medicine” - tailored medical treatment to the individual needs and preferences of a patient, based largely on their genetic make-up. However there are considerable hurdles preventing European patients’ access to personalized medicine. Biopharmaceutical companies face high costs of clinical development for regulatory approval, against a backdrop of increasingly fragmented reimbursement systems and assessment mechanisms unfit for the specificities of personalized therapies.  In particular, biotherapeutic innovators would like to see a concrete action plan within the adaptive pathways pilot program focused on speeding up regulatory approval. In addition, there is a need for health technology assessment agencies to better collaborate on defining the value assessment framework for personalized medicine to accelerate progress in the field. Measuring the concrete uptake of personalized medicine in EU Member States is overdue.

Finally, my bucket list includes the issue of creating growth through trade.  Trade agreements such as the currently negotiated Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are drivers to ensuring the biotech healthcare sector retains its competitiveness on a global scale and continues to deliver growth, jobs and innovation. We need to support incremental innovation, attract investments and reduce the administrative and regulatory burden on biotech companies.

Luckily, Biotech Week gives everyone plenty of opportunity to discuss your our own “bucket lists” for a better innovation ecosystem in the European health biotechnology sector. Join in the conversation online using #biotech4life and #BiotechWeek.