European Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Address to the Members of the Pharmaceutical Forum
Members of Parliament, Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank you all for coming to Brussels today for this first Pharmaceutical Forum.
The outcome of this meeting should send a strong signal to patients and citizens that we are committed to making real improvements in the field of pharmaceuticals and public health.
Let me start with a concrete question.
What tasks have been assigned to this Forum?
In a nutshell, the Forum has to find effective and concrete ways to ensure that the best possible pharmaceuticals are developed and made available for our citizens.
Today’s societies are facing numerous challenges; in terms of demographic changes, investments in research and innovation, new and emerging health threats, rising health care costs and globalisation.
The G10 process was a major step in responding to these challenges.
It resulted in a set of recommendations to improve both public health and the competitiveness of the pharmaceutical industry.
The Commission committed itself to implement the recommendations that fall under the EU competence, and has done so.
The Member States also committed themselves to take forward the other G10 recommendations as stated in the Health Council Resolution and the Competitiveness Council Conclusions adopted in 2003.
We are here today because there are still some important outstanding areas that need to be considered.
From the public health perspective, a key goal for the Pharmaceutical Forum is to make sure that medicines are available and affordable in the enlarging EU.
However, these affordability and availability goals would not be sufficient in order to meet the major public health challenges if innovation was not supported and promoted.
This means ensuring that the industry can operate efficiently in a clear and constructive framework.
The Priority medicines initiative is a good example of how we can set priorities in the field of research and development, based on public health needs.
Today, our task is to consider the work that has been undertaken in the three working groups that have been set up.
We have to give clear directions and concrete objectives for the future.
The progress report in front of us shows that a good start has been made. But much more is is needed.
Based on the report, and taking into account the G10 achievements I mentioned earlier, we have to move towards concrete results.
Your commitment is crucial to ensure that we achieve these concrete deliverables in this process, efficiently and quickly.
So let’s move quickly to the concrete work of the Forum.
Vice-President Verheugen has presented his views, from the perspective of his responsibilities. I fully share them.
I would like to make some additional points more directly linked to my portfolio.
Information to patients
Well informed and empowered patients are a strong asset for European societies.
Health-literate citizens can take better care of their own and family members’ health
However, there are differences between the Member States in terms of access and availability of information.
It is against this background that the EU has an important role to help ensure that all citizens have equal access to necessary information.
No matter where they live, what condition they have or what language they speak.
The working group on information to patients has been tasked to focus on finding concrete ways to provide patients and citizens with better access to good quality information.
The key issues here are trust and accuracy.
Patients want to have accurate, objective and understandable information about pharmaceuticals, which after all, have an impact on their health.
Industry can help to provide information that is trusted.
It wants to be able to play a legitimate role in communication about its own products.
Governments and insurers want to ensure the rational use of medicinal products, and to ensure the financial sustainability of health care systems.
Information on pharmaceuticals is available today everywhere, especially through the internet.
The question is therefore less about the existence of information than about how patients and citizens can trust the information on pharmaceuticals.
I think that to build trust, we have to consider two main issues.
First, what kind of process is needed to provide and validate information on pharmaceuticals?
Second, who should be involved in this process to ensure that the end result is trusted?
I am here to listen to your views on both of these questions.
Relative effectiveness assessment
Let me now turn to another important issue from the public health perspective.
Given constant and growing pressure on health care budgets, it is essential that we focus the limited resources on the correct use of the available medicinal products.
Relative Effectiveness Assessment is a tool to help decide which medicinal product in a specific indication can provide added value to a patient.
Several Member States have already implemented procedures of this kind, some for quite a long time.
All stakeholders consider it important to develop this tool further with more efficient, transparent and more predictable criteria.
The results of the working group show us that all Member States are dedicating more and more resources to it.
In my view it is not the most efficient approach to continue to develop and use these tools separately in 25 Member States at the same time.
This causes duplication of work and efforts. Conflicting assessment outcomes can sometimes cause confusion and raise concerns among patients and practitioners.
The European Health Technology Assessment network and other smaller initiatives have shown us that there are benefits in bringing Member States together to share experiences and challenges in assessing medicinal products.
I think that all Member States would be able to benefit from this kind of collaboration.
I hope therefore, that we can rapidly put in place procedures to enable sharing best practices and to increase the accuracy of assessments.
In addition, we need to improve availability and quality of data needed to perform sound assessments.
I consider for instance that for the assessments, we should try to make more use of already existing information.
It would be interesting to hear your views about that as well.
Pricing and reimbursement
Now, I would like to turn to the work of the working group on pricing and reimbursement without repeating what Vice-President Verheugen has said.
Pricing and reimbursement procedures have been put in place by the Member States as a tool to ensure availability of medicines and sustainability of health care systems.
In the current situation this objective should still be pursued with real innovation being rewarded.
In other words, we need innovative ways to finance innovative medicines.
To conclude, I think that we should focus on concrete results.
We need to go beyond theory and to develop practical models and pilot them to ensure that they work in practice.
I would like to suggest that in the three areas we develop these kinds of models based on evidence and experiences and that we pilot them.
I now would like to invite the Members of the Parliament followed by the political representatives of the Member States and then the stakeholders’ representatives to make interventions on the three key work streams.