Innovation, built on the foundation of solid research and development (R&D), is key to improving health outcomes. The value of healthcare R&D can be illustrated through the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) - the world's largest public-private partnership in the life sciences sector.
While a company or institution would find it extremely difficult to individually address existing scientific knowledge gaps, IMI allows them to join forces with the public sector to explore Europe's major societal challenges.
The sheer potential of IMI is reflected in its diverse array of projects, including - to mention only a few: Alzheimer's (ADAPTED/EPAD/AMYPAD); antimicrobial resistance (ND4BB/ COMBACTE/DRIVE-AB); Ebola (Ebola+); diabetes (DIRECT/IMIDIA/INNODIA); and animal welfare in research (STEMBANCC).
We are now witnessing the emergence of therapies that can: stimulate a patient's own immune system to combat cancer; use antibacterial monoclonal antibodies to target bacteria that are resistant to normal antibiotics; deliver medicines targeting autoimmune disorders; and produce advanced cell and gene therapies that can replace or repair faulty cells and even genes.
Promoting access to these groundbreaking therapies is not without its challenges. Decision-makers and clinicians may have doubts over a new therapy's effectiveness, while novel therapies also may be disruptive to health systems due, for example, to issues such as high up-front costs or even the potential to cure rather than treat an illness. To resolve cost issues, we should look at 'managed entry agreements'.
These can be employed to peg the reimbursement of a therapy to a monitoring programme where data is collected continuously from patients that can confirm the long-term value of a treatment.
Replacing a lifetime supply of medicines with one, highly advanced and high-cost intervention at a single point in time may also pose challenges. Health policymakers and healthcare managers, together with industry, are keen to find new solutions where older ones are no longer fit for purpose.
It is also fundamentally important to agree ways in which R&D can be supported. Bringing innovative medicines that are safe and efficient is a long, complex, risky and costly process that requires industry to invest billions of euros.
Existing pharmaceutical incentives have enabled the research and development of today's therapies and will lead to the cures of tomorrow. They are a fundamental ingredient to developing solutions to patients' unmet needs and represent the foundation on which basic science can be turned into new treatments.
Despite these challenges, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of healthcare in Europe. With over 7000 medicines in development, an exciting new wave of innovation is set to play a vital role in addressing future challenges.
Realising this potential will require stakeholders to work together to foster an environment that supports the kind of innovation that can continue to transform the lives of patients.