People, Process, Platforms: “EUniting” the spectrum of Innovation in European healthcare

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Kees Roks: The term ‘innovation’ has become a healthcare buzzword. To me, innovation encapsulates the process of seeing change as an opportunity rather than a threat, leading to the pursuit new or more effective ways of solving problems. However, this process in healthcare is not limited to product development, but includes improving policies, systems, technologies, and services.

So, if I had to describe innovation as a simple guy from the Netherlands, I would say healthcare innovation is about saving lives.

Rebecca Guntern: I could not agree more, Kees. We rely on innovation to bring new products to the market and we deliver the savings which makes room for future innovation.

Driving innovation is more important than ever. Even prior to the pandemic, healthcare budgets were under extreme pressure. The crisis is likely to make the situation even more difficult, jeopardising access, equity, and sustainability. Here is where generics and biosimilars come in.

They help to reduce costs for healthcare systems– keeping them sustainable and able to further drive innovation. In the healthcare ecosystem the off-patent industry supplies 70% of all medicines in Europe and has a clear purpose.

This raises two questions for me: How can we address both the health and wealth of Europe and where can we collaborate to improve outcomes?

Kees: These questions also keep me up at night and I am convinced the key to unlocking innovation across the spectrum is collaboration. Each healthcare stakeholder throughout the value-chain can make a difference:

  • Industry, academia, and startups can fuel the innovation pipeline.
  • EU policymakers can encourage innovation through responsible policies and regulation.
  • National governments can help harmonise innovation standards within their borders and share best practices beyond.
  • Patient Organisations and NGOs can continue providing their perspectives to help drive the ecosystem’s direction.

From my experience, I’m fortunate to hear first-hand about the impact life-altering innovation can make and the value it creates. However, as you know, innovation isn’t just about products. It’s about people, processes and platforms which improve access for all patients.

We just have to look at the role patients and patient advocacy groups play in innovation, which is evolving in real-time. They are no longer just the target of innovation. Instead, they are an active and collaborative partner. Shaping the innovation that impacts their health and lives but also the ecosystem in which it thrives. We have not seen this before and it’s so vital.

Rebecca: I completely agree. This kind of collaboration helped us bring the world’s first biosimilar to the market 15 years ago. Working with the European Medicines Agency for approval, we developed a biosimilar which matched its reference biologic in terms of safety, efficacy and quality. It was a pioneering product! Since then, biosimilars have had a tremendous impact on what you called the 3A’s earlier.

For patients, they’ve opened the way for millions to access potentially life-changing therapies, providing earlier and broader access. For healthcare systems, they’ve fostered sustainability through savings and have enabled more resources for innovative products. We even help foster innovation through adding to competition and encouraging further investment in research and innovation.

If innovation is really a spectrum as we seem to agree, what can we do to foster it in Europe?

Kees: The needs of patients and a supportive policy landscape will enable a new era of innovation. It will also continue to depend on industry competition.

The use of Real-World Evidence and of new digital solutions could open the door for better personalised care and a revolution in the way we treat cancer and other diseases. That said, I am an optimist but realistic about what is talk and what is action. Having Europe become a world leader in health innovation is an ambitious goal, but we have the resources and capabilities to do it. So now is the time to act.

Rebecca: I also see a future full of opportunities, particularly when it comes to access.

In the next decade, many biological medicines are set to lose market exclusivity. This represents an opportunity to foster positive competition in the biologic medicines market, helping healthcare systems improve patient access, budget sustainability and bridge equity gaps across Europe to deliver the best care for all patients.

Kees: As cross-industry professionals and citizens, we definitely agree– we want to deliver the best care for European patients. Working across many cultures and markets throughout my career, one thing is clear: the benefits of improving affordability, availability and accessibility are not only tied to the ecosystem of innovation, they depend on it.

I like to think that just as the people behind it, innovation cannot thrive in isolation.

#EUnite Week, gave us a unique moment to hear from a mixture of political perspectives, PAGs, as well as from healthcare entrepreneurs from the European Commission, the European Parliament, EuropaBio, Scanbalt, and JA Europe among many others. We saw the desire to come to the table. And we all said Innovation is vital for a robust, resilient, and sustainable European healthcare ecosystem – so now the question becomes when and where do we walk the talk?

Thanks for joining me, Rebecca!

Kees Roks is Head of Region Europe at Novartis Oncology, leading over 2,000 associates in 51 countries on a journey to reimagine treatments and medicines. Roks is a member of the EPFIA Patient Access Committee, participates in the Assembly for the EU Cancer Mission and serves on the Scientific Advisory Board for the Open Research Europe initiative.

Rebecca Guntern is Head of Region Europe at Sandoz, a leading provider of generics medicines and biosimilars globally. Guntern works with colleagues in over 40 European countries to pioneer access to high quality and affordable medicines for patients. She is also the Vice-President of Medicines for Europe.

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