‘Reshuffling of the pack’ in EU health needed after Brexit, conference hears

The conference on personalised medicine was attended by a range of high-level health experts and EU officials.
credit: Adobe Stock

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

09 Dec 2019

Speaking at the opening day of the 3rd annual congress organised by the Brussels-based European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM), the organisation’s Co-Chair Gordon McVie said, “Whenever the true repercussions of the departure of the UK from the EU starts to become clear and really kick in, some reshuffling of the pack in the vast EU-wide health arena is absolutely necessary.”

“This is not so much the obvious and visible things, such as the relocation of the European Medicines Agency from London to Amsterdam, but the less immediately tangible things such as research cooperation, cross-border healthcare, Europe-wide standards, the movement of vital medicines, and more.”

A session on Big Data heard from Marco Marsella, head of unit in DG Connect at the European Commission, who said that in February the executive had adopted recommendations on a European Electronic Health Record exchange format to improve interoperability and access to data across borders.


He said, “This is a very good beginning to support cross-border access to data that will benefit European citizens who have moved to another European country.”

Mario Romao, of Intel, speaking about artificial intelligence (AI), said, “Today, healthcare accounts for 30 percent of world data production. The economic value of AI will thrive with a good regulation.”

“The digital revolution will happen even if we don’t do anything, but a policy transformation is required to reap its benefits. The approach should be the establishment of a health data space. The challenge should be to digitalise healthcare: -100 percent digital in five years.”

Another keynote speaker, Bruno Wohlschlegel, Head of Europe at Merck, said, “Tangible progress on personalised medicine will bring huge benefits to patients, but also to clinicians and the healthcare system.”

“Whenever the true repercussions of the departure of the UK from the EU starts to become clear and really kick in, some reshuffling of the pack in the vast EU-wide health arena is absolutely necessary” Gordon McVie, EAPM co-chair

“However, there are many challenges to address in a rapidly-evolving landscape. All healthcare stakeholders need to collaborate with a robust code of ethics to provide meaningful solutions to issues such as definition and collection of health data, access to data, and integrating data into healthcare decision-making.”

The two-day conference coincided with a meeting last week of EU health attachés on Health Technology Assessment on which the Finnish presidency of the council was looking for a compromise.

This year’s conference, held under the auspices of the Finnish Presidency, was titled “Forward together with Innovation: The importance of policy making in the era of personalised Medicine.”

One of the aims was to highlight the potential of personalised medicine, including in tackling rare diseases.

Stephen McMahon, President of the Irish Patient Association, told attendees, “In the EU, as many as 30 million people may be affected by one or more existing rare diseases, which run into their thousands now.”

“Almost 6,000, in fact, according to the European Commission. And let’s be clear, this is also a global public health problem, not least in developing countries.”

He pointed out that these diseases are distinctive in that there are a limited number of patients with them and often a “lack of long-term research and therefore knowledge regarding them.”

“These life-threatening or chronically-debilitating diseases affect so few people that combined efforts are needed to reduce the number contracting the diseases. Work also needs to be done to prevent newborns and young children dying from them and preserve sufferers' quality of life and their socio-economic potential.”

At another session on bringing innovation into healthcare systems, Indridi Benediktsson, a policy officer at DG Research at the European Commission, said, “There is a misunderstanding on what personalised medicine is and is not. This is not an expensive medicine for the rich. We need to tackle this misunderstanding.”

“We want to help people have better access to medicine, but we also want more prevention of disease. We need to change our mindset. It is not only about spending more money on medicine, it is also about improving quality of life and prevent expenses on the wrong drug or at the wrong time.”

“We know that five to seven percent of hospital admissions are due to bad drug reactions. Personalised medicine would prevent this.”

EAPM’s executive director Denis Horgan said that personalised medicine had “moved from the conceptual stage” to its wide application in healthcare systems.

“This is good news but we still need more cooperation with personalised medicine at Member State level,” he added.

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