Roche CEO: US, China dominate healthcare innovation, EU lags ‘far behind’

Schwan: “There are countries, like Germany, that are not even introducing an electronic patient file and it’s a member state. Even if you have the best ideas you cannot implement them." [Sarantis Michalopoulos]

The US is leading in healthcare innovation, China is catching up at high speed and Europe is just watching the global developments, Roche CEO Severin Schwan warned on Monday (28 May). EURACTIV.com reports from Dublin.

Speaking at the “Entrepreneurship in Healthcare: Powering Innovation” event organised by the European Healthcare Distribution Association (GIRP) in Dublin, the CEO of the Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company criticised Europe for lagging “far behind” compared to the US and China in healthcare innovation.

“The US leads, China is catching up and Europe is watching. People have not realised yet what is going on here and I am afraid of that,” he warned.

Schwan explained that the US was without a doubt ahead of others in healthcare innovation as it has provided a clear regulatory framework which has allowed for an ecosystem of new start-up companies in the field.

“Europe is far away from what is happening in the US, not even close. In addition, China has already overtaken Europe and I am concerned that it will be very difficult for Europe, also for inherent reasons as data is so fragmented within Europe and within countries, to catch up.”

Roche CEO said that the company was investing a lot in the US not because it does not want to invest in Europe but because it’s just much simpler: there is a regulatory framework that allows investment in these new digital opportunities.

“China is also catching up. Chinese are totally committed to innovation. If you are talking to European politicians about innovation […] you don’t know who you will meet next time, if they are still in the government.”

On the other hand, he said, in China, they have a long-term strategy to grow and get from low-value industries to high-value industries, with life science and IT some of the key industries they want to develop.

“They are pumping billions into this. They are speeding-up their regulatory approach and like in the US, they have already well-established tech players, which we don’t have in Europe. And they leverage that and they bring pharmaceuticals and IT together at high speed.”

Europe’s big danger

Referring to the state-of-play in Europe, he underlined that the big danger is that, like in many other areas like Facebook, Google and now in healthcare, eventually “we will get consumers off technologies and companies that are based in the US and in Asia, China. We have to get our act together.”

“In the US, you have big institutions and work together with one provider. And they have more data than a single country in Europe even the bigger ones. In Switzerland, it’s not even possible to bring data together between two cantons. Even within a canton, you have different hospitals which are not willing to share the data.”

He explained that one might have similar issues even in the US, as hospitals are competitive, but the difference is that one of those hospitals can be as big as a country in Europe.

Speaking on the sidelines of the event, he told EURACTIV.com that Europe needs a regulatory framework for how health information is digitised and aggregated to “enable an ecosystem for analysing this kind of information with an ultimate goal to deliver for patients”.

However, he pointed out that Europe had an inherent disadvantage as its data is fragmented.

“There are countries, like Germany, which are not even introducing an electronic patient file and it’s a member state. Even if you have the best ideas, you cannot implement them,” Schwan concluded.

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