When the Roadmap to the EU’s Pharmaceutical strategy was announced by Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, she underlined that “The EU needs a pharmaceutical strategy that makes essential medicines available to all and cements our global leadership on innovation in pharmaceuticals”. Now more than ever before, the COVID-19 crisis has shown that the world looks to medical innovation to fight global health threats and to tackle our existing health challenges. In its current form, the pharma strategy roadmap lacks the necessary drivers of innovation to put Europe back at the forefront of medical discovery.
Today, 47 percent of new treatments originate from the US compared with just 25 percent from Europe (2014-2018). This represents a complete reversal of the situation in just 25 years. In parallel, Europe’s share of global research and development (R&D) investment is falling. Over the past twenty years, the EU’s R&D base has gradually eroded, with new cutting-edge technology research units being transferred out of Europe, mainly to the US and more recently to China.
"Unless the Commission acts now, the EU will become simply a consumer of others’ medical innovation"
Learning from the COVID-19 crisis, the erosion of Europe’s R&D base has created a strategic vulnerability. The Roadmap represents a missed opportunity to rebuild Europe’s medical research eco-system, to enhance the region’s resilience to global health threats and address our on-going health challenges while also positioning it as a key driver for the EU’s economic recovery. Unless the Commission acts now, the sustained loss of Europe’s competitiveness will continue and even accelerate in the context of fierce global competition for life-science investment, ultimately resulting with the EU becoming simply a consumer of others’ medical innovation.
What would it take to regain the lost ground? We have proposals to support the development of Europe’s research and health-data infrastructure as well as innovative, environmentally sustainable manufacturing. We know what components are needed for Europe to have a world-class incentives framework. One that can attract investment into the development of future treatments for the benefit of patients, including those with rare and paediatric diseases. And we have published proposals to evolve Europe’s regulatory system to ensure it is stable, fast, effective and globally competitive.
At the same time, I share the concern over inequalities of access to new treatments and vaccines found across Europe. Faster, more equitable access for citizens is a shared responsibility and a common goal. The first step must be an evidence-based, EU-led analysis of the root causes and drivers of access, supply and shortage issues. The challenges are multifaceted and can only be addressed by stakeholders working together. Creating a High-Level Forum on Better Access to Health Innovation would help us identify and collaborate on multi-stakeholder solutions for introducing new technologies that can broaden access, reduce delays and mitigate the impact of shortages today and in the future.
Over the coming weeks, I am very much looking forward to working together with all stakeholders to ensure that both of the Commissioner’s ambitions can be realised through the strategy.