European Healthcare: So much we can build on, so much left to do

Europe has made great progress in healthcare in recent years. An EU citizen born today can expect to live 30 years longer than his or her ancestors a century ago. And much suggests that this trend will persist. From immuno-oncology to gene and cell therapy, we are seeing new medicines that give hope to patients who until recently have had no treatment options.

I am convinced that there has never been a more promising time for pharmaceutical innovation. Thanks to the digital revolution and new biotechnologies, we now have tools at our disposal that we would not have dared to dream about just a few years ago.

However, progress won’t happen by itself, especially since Europe also faces major healthcare challenges. The most notable is demographic change. Ageing societies will exert significant cost pressure on healthcare systems over the next years. At the same time, high unmet medical need persists in diseases like cancer or Alzheimer’s. This requires continued large-scale investments in research and development. The pharmaceutical industry has a major role to play in tackling these challenges. We must nurture scientific progress and drive development of breakthrough therapies. And in doing so, it’s essential for us to address the decisive themes that fuel progress. That’s why when I took the reins as EFPIA president two years ago, we focused on three major factors: patient engagement, data and collaboration.

Strengthening patient engagement

Patients must play a central role in shaping the future of healthcare in Europe. That includes how medicines are developed, how services are designed, and how chronic conditions are managed. As an industry, we are committed to engaging patients in all of these processes.

Working through collaborative vehicles like the EFPIA Patient Think Tank and the Innovative Medicines Initiative’s (IMI) PARADIGM project, we have advanced the field of patient engagement more broadly. We have moved from talking about patients to talking with patients to help shape policy and practice right across the life cycle of medicines. Not only is this the right thing to do, it also improves the process of discovering, developing and delivering new treatments and cures. For example, medicines tested in clinical trials designed with patients have a higher success rate and are available faster. It’s a win-win.

This approach was typified by our participation in last year’s EU Health Summit in Brussels, where 29 organizations from across healthcare came together to make 20 specific recommendations to support the creation of patient-centered, outcomes-focused and data-driven health systems of the future.

Harnessing the rich potential of health data

This gets me to my second point. Digital technologies and the wide availability of health data open entirely new possibilities. By using health data more effectively, we can accelerate medical R&D, integrate real-world evidence into regulatory processes and accelerate the transition to outcomes-focused healthcare systems. Such healthcare systems have several advantages: They put an emphasis on what matters most, outcomes for patients. They help reduce variation in quality. And they allow us to reduce inefficiencies. It is evident that outcomes-focused healthcare systems must be data-based.

To that end, over the last year, we have been working with the International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurements (ICHOM) to bring together experts, patients and their families, to build a holistic view of the outcomes that matter to patients. Dozens of standard sets covering outcomes for specific diseases or patient populations have already been published and more are in the pipeline. These enable meaningful measurement of what healthcare systems are actually delivering. This is good news for patients, but also for payers who want to reward tangible results.

Embracing collaboration

During my presidency, we celebrated the IMI’s 10th anniversary. This initiative, jointly launched by the European Commission and EFPIA, is a prime example of the importance of collaboration. Under IMI, partners have initiated over 100 projects across a huge range of therapeutic areas. Its collaborative approach to tackling scientific problems has led to significant advances in identifying biomarkers, developing a vaccine for the Ebola crisis and making a significant contribution to our understanding of - and how we manage - disease.

The power of partnership has proven a successful formula for tackling not only major scientific challenges but also political turmoil in the context of Brexit. We are still facing great uncertainty. Yet our industry has taken proactive measures to protect the supply of medicines to patients while offering constructive suggestions to minimize the impact of Brexit on patients in both the UK and the EU.

Another critical area that depends on collaboration is the fight against counterfeit medicines. Together with our partners, we have launched the European Medicines Verification System (EMVS), which helps manufacturers, distributors and pharmacists to dramatically reduce the risk of falsified medicines entering the European supply chain.

As I hand over the baton to a new EFPIA president, I am confident that these three topics – patient engagement, data and collaboration –remain central to overcoming the healthcare challenges we face.

Two years ago, on the first day of my presidency, we launched the #WeWontRest story that underlines our commitment, dedication and passion to discover, develop and deliver new medicines for patients. That commitment remains as strong as ever. Today, we can look forward to continuing to work with partners across the research and health communities to meet the needs of patients across Europe – optimistic and curious about all the unsolved scientific challenges out there.

Stefan Oschmann

Stefan Oschmann is Chairman of the Executive Board and CEO of Merck. Before taking office at the end of April 2016,...
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