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. Our resilience begins with research. It means developing new treatments, building the advanced manufacturing capacity, skills and clinical knowledge that lead to patients getting the benefits of these advances in treatment.
Unfortunately, today, 47% of new treatments originate from the US compared with just 25% 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 EU and European governments act now, this sustained loss of Europe’s competitiveness will continue and even accelerate in the context of fierce global competition for life-science investment, ultimately resulting in European countries becoming simply a consumer of others’ medical innovation.
The implications of this are bad for patients, for health-systems, for our strategic resilience and for our economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Patients will see their counterparts in countries where new treatments are developed having access to those new treatments long before they do. In addition, there is now a growing body of evidence that patients get better outcomes in centres for clinical research. Health systems will take longer to benefit from the savings generated by new treatments across healthcare, the social care system and wider society, as patient outcomes are improved and savings are made in areas like hospitalisations.
Our ability to respond to global health threats like COVID-19 is predicated on having a research infrastructure to tackle these challenges. Unfortunately, this can’t be turned on and off when needed and takes years to build. The policies we put in place now will do much to define our health in the future.
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”. In its current form, the pharma strategy roadmap lacks the necessary drivers of innovation to put Europe back at the forefront of medical discovery. 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. We must get it right in the Pharma Strategy per se when it is published at the end of the year.
What would it take to regain the lost ground? EFPIA has put forward 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, we acutely 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.
This is a critical time for Europe, not only in facing the continued challenges of COVID-19 but for creating the policy environment that can ensure we have access to today’s treatments, innovation to deliver the treatments of tomorrow and ensure Europe’s strategic resilience and economic recovery.
On the author
Nathalie Moll joined the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) as Director General in April 2017. Prior to joining EFPIA, between 2010 and 2017 Nathalie was the Secretary General of EuropaBio ranked as the most effective European Trade Association in Brussels in 2013. She spent over 20 years working for the biotech industry at EU and national level in associations and corporate positions and held the position of Chair and Vice Chair of the International Council of Biotech Associations (ICBA). In 2013, Nathalie won the Technovisionaries Women Innovation Award organised by Women & Technologies® while in 2009, Nathalie and the Green Biotech Team of EuropaBio were presented with the Leadership and Excellence in Advancing Ag-Biotech and Food Issues Award. Nathalie was also named one of the 15 leading women in biotech in Europe in 2017. Nathalie holds an Honours Degree in Biochemistry and Biotechnology from St Andrews University, Scotland.