It is widely acknowledged that immunotherapy is the most important breakthrough in cancer treatment in recent years. While immunotherapy cannot yet help the majority of cancer patients, it is leading to promising results in a certain proportion of those treated.
As medical science continues to break new ground, many new therapies are on the horizon. Globally, the pharmaceutical industry currently has more than 7,000 medicines in development. Gene therapy could end weekly infusions for hemophilia B patients. Someday, it might even cure the disease. CAR-T cell therapy could cure certain types of leukemia. New therapies for Alzheimer’s disease could delay onset or progression, improving quality of life and enabling patients to live independently for longer.
Biopharmaceutical medicines save lives. They reduce overall health care expenditure, for example, by reducing spending on hospitalization, a major cost factor in mature health care systems. And they enable patients to lead active and productive lives for longer.
In short: Biopharmaceutical medicines create real — for patients and for society.
We should keep this latter aspect in mind when it comes to drug prices. I fully understand that many Europeans are deeply concerned about the costs of pharmaceuticals, which have long been the target of harsh criticism. Yet, the numbers tell a different story. Over the past decade, spending on pharmaceuticals has grown less than total health spending. However, the introduction of transformative technologies will require health care systems to change as well.
We need collaboration between all stakeholders to guarantee that Europeans have access to the best medicines in the future. At the recent annual meeting of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), we reiterated our industry’s commitment to outcomes-driven, sustainable health care systems.
“Biopharmaceutical medicines create real value — for patients and for society.”
The word “sustainable” urges us to move away from a short-term focus on prices. Instead, we must seek patient outcomes that are durable and provide long-term value. This shift is gaining momentum, for instance, in projects to develop outcome measures or indication pricing, which link a drug’s price to its value in treating specific diseases. Italy, for example, has introduced outcomes-based reimbursement levels linked to response rates in patients. We need a greater willingness to enter this uncharted, yet promising, territory. Moreover, we need a regulatory environment that fosters investment, experimentation with alternative payment models, and new applications for data.
A strong incentives framework is also crucial in order to unlock the value of science for patients. The European framework of intellectual property rules — including orphan drug and pediatric drug regulations — and supplementary protection certificates, is a strong foundation. This framework has helped pharmaceutical companies invest more than €30 billion in Europe annually since 2012. We must be especially careful when reviewing this framework to ensure that we can maintain or, even better, increase innovation in Europe.
That also holds true for digital technology. Data can unlock new opportunities throughout the entire treatment process. Data can reveal disease patterns, optimize clinical trials and facilitate information-sharing between health care professionals and patients. We need to use data much more effectively and efficiently. To do so, it must be accessible, assessable, reusable and interoperable.
“We must seek patient outcomes that are durable and provide long-term value.”
Of course, effective protection of health data is of utmost importance. But we should not lose sight of the great benefits data can bring, especially for patients.
If Europe can capitalize on this time of unprecedented scientific innovation, harness the multiplier effect of the digital economy and put renewed pricing models in place, I believe a medical revolution is truly within reach — to the benefit of all: patients, society and business. Cooperation to build the right regulatory framework and durable incentives can deliver sustainable health care for all and create new treatment options for diseases once thought incurable.