“Better access to data is key to addressing Europe’s healthcare challenges”

Guest blog by Robert Madelin, Chairman of Fipra International 

The challenges facing healthcare systems in Europe are significant. Bolder initiatives are needed if we are to get onto a sustainable path for universal cutting-edge health.

Europe has within its grasp significant world-level leadership in ethical and advanced data use for healthcare. Europe’s patients and citizens stand to gain enormously, if Europe is willing and able to rise to this opportunity. Success depends on seeing beyond the current discussion of costs, aging and uneven access to treatment. Success will also require new, broader networks of key actors, in harness with patients and professionals across Europe and more widely.

The Collaboration for Oncology Data in Europe (CODE) is an important part of the answer we need, and I was delighted to be invited to speak at its launch. CODE took it first steps at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress on 10th September 2017.

This project is being led by QuintilesIMS with the support of leading biopharmaceutical companies, Lilly, AstraZeneca, BMS, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany and Pfizer and supports the creation of a large-scale Oncology Data Network (ODN) that will collate comprehensive, up-to-date data to describe how anti-cancer medicines are actually used in clinical practice.

The technology platform has been designed to be able to aggregate data on anti-cancer medicine usage for all forms of cancer, in all patients and for all treatment centres across Europe who wish to join. It is a cancer-focussed effort on a scale comparable to recent steps towards personalised medicine in both the US and the UK, to name but two. It is an excellent example of the widespread innovation that data is bringing.

Through the creation of CODE and the ODN the potential exists for the European oncology community to learn much more about its actual clinical practice and make the most of the opportunities afforded by better use of data, to help improve healthcare and contribute to safeguarding the financial sustainability of innovative treatment.

How does this fit with European health policies today?

Some observers can be forgiven for worrying that Europe is letting slip its delivery on the Treaty goals of dynamic, research-driven and innovative health systems. But there are promising steps afoot. This term, the Estonian Presidency and the European Commission come together to launch a “Digital Health Society” movement in Tallinn next month, and to make fresh policy proposals by Christmas.

In that context, CODE is an excellent case for study of how innovation can boost healthcare quality, but also of how policy and regulatory support is needed for innovation to flourish fast and wide. If ever ‘Europe’ was needed, it is now, to bolster 21st century health breakthroughs in and for Europe, to keep data ethics and data innovation in lock-step, and to open spaces where all interested parties in the digital health society can come together to build a common vision and mutual trust in the way to deliver that vision.

No EU health system is yet fully realising the potential of the use of data to improve healthcare – there is a moral and economic imperative for us all to do so. The EU can play a key role, not just in tackling certain legislative and policy bottlenecks but also in creating a forum for stakeholders to come together to engage in the issues.

What can the rest of us do?

We need to be active and loud. European institutions need strong encouragement to keep the health space open as part of the future of Europe. To find long term solutions to the challenges of sustainable healthcare, sustained collaboration is required whereby all stakeholders are engaged in a way that encourages trust and transparency.

Data innovation will affect every aspect of our society. But healthcare is perhaps the most promising sector for action, when it comes to using available data to transform systems, research and practice. CODE for healthcare is a good start in the right moment. It deserves attention and support.

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