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23 September 2020
CARE, - Healthcare, - Medicines

Launched in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the EU Pharmaceutical Strategy draft is an initiative that, along with the Beating Cancer Plan, tops the European Commission’s agenda in the area of health.

The strategy aims to address key aspects of access to medicines, enable digital health and innovation in general, and draw lessons from the COVID-19 experience to build preparedness ahead of future pandemics.

EFA participated in the 3-month questionnaire consultation representing people with allergy, asthma and COPD in Europe. We offered our views on medicine shortages, and the development and authorisation of innovative medicines.

We also provided our disease-specific perspective on other crucial elements of the consultation, such as the rise of digital health and the environmental aspects of medicines, highlighted below.

Access to medicines

EFA understands access to healthcare in a holistic way covering the following 5 elements (the so-called 5As): Availability, Adequacy, Accessibility, Affordability, and Appropriateness.

While medicine shortages may have multiple causes, they all share the same results: limited access to treatment, causing patients to miss the care they need. Unfortunately, today patient involvement in national pricing decisions is limited.

In our response, we offer several recommendations that will help the Commission anticipate shortages and address access to medicines in general. For example:
- A more harmonised approach to market authorisation among countries
- Increase the flow of information between the industry and EU/national authorities on potential shortages through transparent and accessible means
- Accelerate the roll-out of ePrescriptions across Europe to help healthcare systems plan in advance
- Consider the cost of drugs treating comorbidities, and its impact on patients’ quality of life
- Give a stronger voice to patients in processes such as pricing and reimbursement

Innovation in early development and authorisation of medicines

According to available data, the current EU budget for asthma and COPD research is dramatically disproportionate of the actual impact of the diseases.
EFA calls for an ambitious increase in research funding, along with a strategy that promotes synergies. In addition, EFA calls for a framework that facilitates market authorisation of innovative medicines and therapies.

The new Pharmaceutical Strategy should encourage the development of innovative medicines and therapies, among others, by:
- Adopting a cure-oriented pharmaceutical research approach based on increased funding and public-private collaborations with patients as key actors
- Encouraging medicine development that integrates patients’ real needs
- Proposing an enabling framework for innovative medicines and therapies
- Identifying a common understanding on the areas of unmet needs in the EU
- Streamlining standards for clinical trials for low-prevalent diseases, while supporting the conduct of ‘pragmatic trials’
- Supporting research on new and/or targeted treatments and therapies at the EU level

Digital health

EFA fully acknowledges the benefits of digital health and artificial intelligence in diagnosing, monitoring, and self-managing the disease. Equally, applications such as the Electronic Health Records and ePrescriptions can reinforce the cross-border exchange of data, significantly improving the life of patients.

However, we think that the promise of digital technologies cannot be viable if patients are not at the centre of disease management, data collection and digital use.

Environmentally sustainable medicines

Consistent with our principles that health and the environment go hand-in-hand, EFA has always supported the improvement of treatment choices to meet environmental requirements. For example, we have promoted the avoidance of unnecessary waste in the use of drug-device combinations, among others through recyclable devices.

COVID-19 pandemic and access to treatment and medicines

With regards to the challenges faced by chronic respiratory patients in accessing healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic, EFA noted the serious delays in several countries, often due to differences among regions or even among hospitals. This in turn resulted in long recovery times, or even total lack of access to specialist care.

EFA is full Member of the European Patients’ Forum and has contributed to the EPF’s submission to this consultation, which we fully support.

You can find EFA’s full response here.