After more than a year of pandemic and much controversy with vaccines, Europe faces a new pharmaceutical strategy in October. Dolors Montserrat MEP is leading this debate.
Europe has secured doses for Europeans in 2022 and 2023 with contracts with Moderna and Pfizer. Will RNA be the ones that end up reigning?
The European Union has insured member states 4.4 billion doses with production companies. However, the European Union has made it very clear that whoever has breached or is in breach of a contract with the European Union and whoever has gambled on their reputation and the health of their citizens will not be able to renew contracts.
It is not so much a matter of type of vaccines, but about breaches of contracts. The European Union will not be repeat offenders with those who have breached contracts, also with a lot of quantity, such as AstraZeneca.
Is Europe confident that the CureVac vaccine will end up being approved despite its poor efficacy?
Europe, as it has done so far, will wait for what the European Medicines Agency says. What has been done are pre-contracts so that in the event that it is approved to have the doses assured.
We change third to talk about the European Pharmaceutical Strategy. What are the main novelties?
There are three things. The first puts the patient at the center of pharmaceutical policy, prioritizing solutions for unmet medical needs, such as rare diseases. Remember here that, of the 8,000 rare diseases, 95% do not yet have a therapy. Pediatric cancer patients are also present, where there is little research and we want to support that research. Also antimicrobial resistance, because every year 30,000 people in Europe die from bacteria that resist antibiotics.
He was talking about three legs. What are the other two?
This decade will be one of advanced treatment research and competitive European industry. When I speak of European industry, I am not speaking of European capital exclusively, what we want is for the entire industry on our continent to be more competitive. We want to have a European health big data space where we will have more than a million genomes.
In this way we can improve prevention policies or early detection. In all this we want a powerful pharmaceutical industry where, and here I connect with the third leg, the sustainability of national health systems is ensured. The big difference with our two international competitors is that they do not have a national public and universal health system. That is our great added value in the world, our welfare system.
What can be done to improve the competitiveness of European industry?
Member States, which are in charge of setting prices for medicines, must take into account medicine made in Europe or industries that are eco-sustainable. It should also be taken into account if a drug has been investigated with public money. Likewise, there is a great space for E-health, and we must also work on debureaucratization.
What cannot be is that people have to wait months after the European approval of a drug. We have to harmonize the procedures. We have seen it with the vaccines, the day after the EMA authorization they were already in the countries.
Are many drug prices going to be revised?
What we want, within our competencies, is that if, for example, a new antibiotic that controls resistant bacteria enters and that is used by many people in Europe, then that the value that this medicine offers be taken into account.
We are paying for antibiotics at 60 or 80 cents, less than a pack of gum, and then we complain in Europe that companies relocate to other countries because of the costs. Well, listen, we still have to pay more for the antibiotic to avoid a shortage of medicine. Of course, we make it very clear that in Europe we have no competition to review prices.
He has pointed out a problem that is true: the delay in the arrival of medicines to countries since their approval by Europe. Can the system we have seen with vaccines be copied?
This is what we want, especially since we have been asked by patients, industry and the Member States themselves. What we need is the debureaucratisation and a complete digitization of the centralized European approval procedures. In addition, national agencies have to align their times. We have put a maximum of six months between the approval of the European Agency until the approval of the national agency. All this is my strategy in full negotiation with the rest of the groups.
744 amendments have been tabled and the European Parliament’s Health Committee will vote on 11 October. The most problematic thing that I have seen from the amendments of the rest of the groups is that the left asks for the liberalization of patents in emergency cases and what we are talking about is the price,
How is the cancer plan?
On July 15, the first draft was presented. Every year 3.5 million cancers are diagnosed in Europe and 1.2 million Europeans die. Patients have told us that the financial part affects them a lot. A family in Spain has an extra cost when cancer enters their life of 600 or 700 euros per month.