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There is plenty of buzz around genomics yet access to testing and treatments is still a challenge

"My Genome: Our Future" is a much needed debate in Brussels. As medical scientists and physicians understand the human genome and the mutations that drive cancer better, new treatment options for cancer patients are likely to be developed, especially in areas with high medical need.
 
How can Europe ensure that also European cancer patients benefit from those new treatments?
 
Over the last 30 years, academic and commercial research gained tremendous knowledge about the origin of cancer and the ability of cancer cells to adapt to a changing environment. These scientific advances have revealed the unique complexities of cancer, changed the understanding of the disease, and led to entirely new approaches and therapies in oncology.
 
Today, we know that many causes of cancer are hidden in the genome. Just as each person’s genetic makeup is different, every patient’s cancer is influenced and driven by a range of factors. Recent progress in oncology can be attributed to technological advances in genomic sequencing. The potential of molecular profiling will introduce an entirely new era of precision and personalized treatments and the genomic sequencing of tumors helps physicians to find the best treatment option for individual cancer patients.
 
Martin Seychell, Deputy Director-General for Health, set an ambitious goal for the European Commission in his opening remarks for the EU Commission’s conference on Integrating genomics into personalized healthcare, currently taking place in Brussels: He wants the EU to become a true global player for genomics with a set of clear principles to integrate personalized medicines into member states’ health systems.
 
The reality is somewhat different: a fragmented policy landscape exists for diagnostics and treatments. Precision or personalized treatments and genomic testing are not yet part of routine care for cancer patients in Europe. And when EU policy-makers talk about the future of genomics and personalized medicines, the focus is on the costs of precision oncology and genomic testing. Concern about the sustainability of health systems is the elephant in the Brussels conference room.
 
We know that public health budgets are constantly under strain, but can Europe afford to fall behind in genomics and new cancer treatments? Just one percent of the total healthcare budget in Europe is spent on cancer medicines – the figure spent on precision and personalized treatments an even smaller percentage.
 
Member states are reluctant to utilise new precision medicines even there is considerable clinical evidence on the potential value of precision medicines for patients, clinicians and the healthcare system. To support their uptake, value assessments and price negotiations should not be based on arbitrary or short-term financial decisions. In addition, Europe’s  diagnostic infrastructure lags behind the rapidly advancing science, fragmented reimbursement process for diagnostics is a significant barrier to evolving in clinical practice. A comprehensive test panel can reduce the stress patients and their families experience during a “diagnostic odyssey”. As some panelists put it, every European country should have a genomic testing program.

To know more about the EFPIA Oncology Platform, click here.

Tobias Helmstorf

Tobias Helmstorf is Head Pharma Health Policy at Bayer.
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