Cardiovascular health: urgent action needed on EU’s #1 killer

The European Union has an unprecedented opportunity to tackle cardiovascular disease (CVD) while boosting competitiveness in the life sciences. The High-Level Conference on Cardiovascular Health organised by the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the EU is the first of its kind. The event, taking place today in Budapest (4 July), represents a promising first step towards Council Conclusions later this year. 

There is no time to lose. The impact of CVD on health, society and the economy is profound. As well as being the leading cause of death in the EU, CVD can affect quality of life, impact productivity, and increase dependency on family and society support. In 2021 alone, the EU economy lost 2% of its GDP to the negative effects of heart conditions*. 

The urgency surrounding this issue arises from the fact that the improvement in outcomes recorded over the past decades has stalled, despite the potential to avoid many heart attacks and strokes through effective prevention and treatment. In addition, growing stress on our healthcare and welfare systems could be alleviated by implementing European and national cardiovascular health (CVH) plans.

Most Member States do not have up to date plans on cardiovascular health. This is concerning, but offers a chance to reinvigorate policy in a crucial area. European cooperation in this field can help to raise standards for all, implementing policies and targets based on the latest evidence. National plans must address existing gaps in healthcare systems, supported by a dedicated budget, while boosting innovation through public-private partnerships.

Innovation at the heart of Europe's vision for health

The Council Conclusions and future CVH plans should prioritise innovation. Advances in diagnostics, prevention and treatment have improved outcomes from one generation to the next. However, continued progress is not guaranteed and we are concerned that improvements have stalled or, in some cases, reversed. 

Europe can – and must – get back on track. To reinvigorate clinical research and drug approvals, companies operating in Europe need a system of incentives rewarding results. This includes appropriate valuation, consideration of surrogate endpoints, patient-reported outcomes and quality of life indicators in order to usher in the next wave of innovation.

The success of future European and national CVH plans depends on whether science-based policies are matched with investment in research, stronger prevention and treatment pathways, better access to data, and the availability of skilled labour and capital in this vital field.  

The case for European leadership
Healthy populations underpin healthy economies. That is why boosting investment in health, including through tackling major chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, is a key component of a Competitiveness Strategy for European Life Sciences. This Strategy should be a priority for the new European Commission, led by an Office for Life Sciences responsible for strategic leadership and policy coordination.

For maximum impact, the strategy needs to address all parts of the innovation ecosystem, from basic science to early stage development, clinical trials, the regulatory framework, manufacturing and supply chains to robust investment in health by Member States, ensuring equal access to innovative treatments for patients. 

A comprehensive strategy would ensure that Europe regains a leadership role in biopharmaceutical research and development, including for CVD, reversing the trend that has seen Europe’s share of global R&D investments decrease by 25% during the past two decades. 

Delivering on this ambitious vision is the best way to create a healthier Europe in which CVD outcomes are improved and our economies continue to grow. The High-Level Conference in Budapest is an important first step in the right direction. 

* Luengo-Fernandez R. et al. Economic burden of cardiovascular diseases in the European Union: a population-based cost study. Eur Heart J 2023

Thomas Allvin

Thomas Allvin is Executive Director for Strategy and Healthcare Systems at EFPIA. Before joining EFPIA, Thomas...
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