Uptake of personalised medicines relies on EU regions’ activism

Cancer, Patients Receiving Chemotherapy Treatment in a hospital. [goodbishop/Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Untapping personalised medicine potential .

The activism of regions can play a critical role in ensuring the development of personalised medicine, according to health policymakers and stakeholders.

The emerging field of research known as ‘personalised medicine’ investigates technological advances that can predict which treatment will be best for each patient.

Research on personalised medicines has been supported at the EU level since the 7th framework for research in 2007 and was expanded in the subsequent programme Horizon 2020.

European health ministers also invited the Commission to continue its support for research on personalised medicine in their EU Council conclusions adopted in December 2015.

“In order to see personalised medicine become a reality, there needs to be demand for it. Most of the time [that demand] comes from the regions. So their role there is essential,” said Carmen Laplaza Santos, head of unit in Health Innovations & Ecosystems at the European Commission’s DG for Research and Innovation (DG RTD), at a recent event.

She added that regions are also crucial for knowledge-sharing. According to her, it does not make sense nowadays to start from scratch on the matter, as many others have already thought about it and developed a way of doing things in a smart way.

“So for us, the importance of the involvement of the regions also goes in that direction – how to ensure that we learn from each other,” the Commission official said.

European regions can count on the massive financial instrument of the Cohesion policy, which represents a third of the EU budget devoted to promoting growth, especially in areas lagging in development.

There has been a recent push from the European Parliament to focus funds from the Cohesion Policy on ensuring equal access to health care facilities across Europe.

The amount of active participation of regions in personalised medicine development is good news for Ejner Moltzen, who is the chair of ICPerMed – International Consortium for Personalised Medicine.

The consortium was established in 2016 with the help of the European Commission and is a member state-led initiative to identify priority research actions to be financed by both Member States, Horizon 2020 and international partners.

“We have to make some real effort in order to try to get all the regions onboard,” Moltzen said and added that it is an important factor to combat health inequalities.

“[If not] it could create some bad things—for example, health tourism. We want everybody to get the best possible treatment where they are. And I think that’s something we need to think about,” he said.

Personalised health needs patients’ trust, data access to bloom, says expert

Citizens should be the primary target when it comes to health data and the uptake of personalised medicines, as the more they are involved, the greater benefits our healthcare systems will have, said health expert Gianni D’Errico.

Personalised medicines require renewed health systems

Personalised medicine and a focus on tailoring the right medical treatment for each individual is gaining more and more ground, now becoming more feasible to benefit everyone, Moltzen, who has been following the field for more than a decade, told the audience.

“It started out being some kind of scientific oddity, which might become relevant for a few very rich people. Today, it has become established as an area, which is important and indispensable for the future healthcare system, we are going to build in order to provide better care for the patients and the citizens,” he said.

Research and innovation are important for the development of personalised medicine, Moltzen says, highlighting that new treatments resulting from this are increasing and adding pressure to the health systems.

“There is a need to renew our health system, to renew our reimbursement systems,” he said, pointing to data and sample sharing across borders, which is challenging under the current data protection rules.

The European Commission is expected to present a proposal for an EU’s health data space in the coming weeks, the first legislation aimed at advancing scientific research in telehealth and fostering the development of new digital health services and products.

In a leak of the proposal, the EU executive appears to rely on using secondary data for better research and better policymaking as it can significantly boost the innovative field of personalised medicines.

Moltzen called on decision-makers to “provide the right legal frameworks in order to make this possible in a way that is also securing the patient’s privacy and ownership of their own data,” he said, adding that the data issue related to personalised medicines needs to be solved at the policy level.

“[Politicians] are more focused on preserving privacy than finding the solutions that make it possible to move this field forward for the benefit of the patients,” he pointed out.

This problem was also highlighted by Gianni D’Errico, international project officer at Toscana Life Sciences Foundation and coordinator for the Regions4PerMed project, in a previous interview.

“Fragmentation of available health data sources, as well as the lack of data access policies that would enhance the research and innovation, are still needed and remain a barrier to the implementation of personalised health,” D’Errico said.

MEPs support making full use of cohesion policy to abolish health inequalities

The European Parliament has approved an own-initiative report suggesting that cohesion policy funds could be one of the ways to reduce health inequalities, which remain huge across the EU. 

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor)

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