The pandemic has put Europe in the mirror, and forced us to reorganise our priorities. We have learned from our mistakes, and we now know what we need to work on for the future, what aspects of the Union we need to strengthen, defend and safeguard, and, above all, we have learned that we need to strengthen the European health security.
Without health, there is no well-being, no work, and no social life. If we have the best quality of life in the European Union, it is also thanks to our excellent health systems. This pandemic has opened our eyes and made us appreciate this much more, while making us more ambitious.
Europe is leading the fight against climate change and caring for the planet, and now, after COVID-19, we have the opportunity to make Europe and its universally accessible national public health systems world leaders in the health sector.
The fight against COVID-19 has shown us that, with will and leadership, we can achieve in one year what used to take a generation. In 2021 we put in place the first pillars for building the European Union of Health: the COVID-19 vaccination strategy, the reinforcement of the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the creation of the Health Emergency Response Authority (HERA) and its incubator, the new autonomous UE4Health programme and the EU Beating Cancer Plan which, together with the New Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe, launch the decade of health and research in Europe, thus strengthening not only the economic but also the social dimension of the European Union.
It has been 20 years since the last Pharmaceutical Strategy was launched, and since then it has changed dramatically. We face challenges that were unthinkable at the beginning of this century. We have been hit by severe crises, but science and technology have been two huge social shields.
We have learned that in complex situations we need more science and technology and more collaboration between public and private entities. This is the only way to achieve the best research and treatment development in the world, contributing to ensure our health security.
European patients will be able to benefit from scientific advances and digital transformation, which are essential for cutting-edge healthcare. Gene and cell therapies, personalised medicine, nanotechnologies and nanomedicines, next generation vaccines, as well as e-health through supercomputing, artificial intelligence and an interoperable structure for the European Health Data Space with the “Over a Million Genomes” initiative will bring huge benefits for research, prevention, early diagnosis and post-treatment of all diseases.
All these advances must reach all our citizens, as there is no innovation without universal access to its benefits or without the sustainability of the health system. We all have the right to equal access to the best treatments. There is no room for 27 different Europe.
The EU must not allow it to take 9 days to receive a special drug in some states and 1,000 days in others. We have 7000 rare diseases with no cure, and 30 million people without an answer. We also face threats of unaddressed pandemics, such as antimicrobial resistance, which represents a serious global health problem and a serious risk to the well-being of European citizens that will pose a major challenge to European health systems and societies.
In the last 20 years, the shortage of medicines has increased twenty-fold. Many factors contribute to these shortages, including the high dependence on non-EU countries for active ingredients, chemical raw materials and medicines.
The EU needs to increase its production capacity by stimulating its industry, but also to diversify its supply chain and ensure better coordination of national health strategies. We must update the laws and the incentive system to promote new models of public-private collaboration.
The new Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe, approved by a large majority of all political groups represented in the Parliament, responds to all this major challenges facing the pharmaceutical sector and our health systems.
It responds to the objective of making Europe the world’s centre of innovation in health. The new Strategy is the ideal framework for updating and strengthening a whole new generation of EU pharmaceutical regulations for the next decade.
The new strategy will help build a pharmaceutical system that is resilient over time and resistant to crises; the vitality of the pharmaceutical sector is not only key to health and jobs in the Union, but is necessary to reinforce its strategic autonomy, especially in the wake of increased pandemic risks and fragile supply chains.
The new strategy proposes a paradigm shift:
1. It puts the patient at the centre of all health policies;
2. Ensures that all patients have access to state-of-the-art treatments;
3. Promotes further research into rare diseases, paediatric cancers, neurodegenerative diseases and antibiotic resistance;
4. Invest in a competitive European pharmaceutical industry, with supply chains that do not depend exclusively on third countries, promoting a “Made in Europe” innovation;
5. Calls for an updated, predictable and more agile regulatory system, with less bureaucracy thanks to digitalisation, and a solid framework for the protection of Intellectual Property Rights;
5. Pursues the sustainability of our national health systems;
6. And it strengthens the European Union as a global leader in health to make it more resilient to future health crises.
The new European Pharmaceutical Strategy also strengthens the link with the EU’s industrial strategy, the SME strategy and the future European Health Data Space, and is part of the larger goal of a Europe of People. This is why all our health policies have patients’ needs at their core.
All this will not be possible if we do not work together: European institutions, Member States, political forces, industry, the scientific community, health professionals and patients must all pull in the same direction to achieve the European Union of Health.
This is the only way to ensure Health security together with the sustainability of our national health systems, leaving no patient behind.
The health of Europeans depends, more than ever, on the health of the European Union.