Words by Janet Nzisa
European healthcare systems have had a tough two years and need urgent attention if they are to transform for the better. The pharmaceutical industry has an important role to play in improving healthcare across the continent, particularly when it comes to examining new strategies for collaboration, pricing and evidence generation
Renowned chefs worldwide do not earn their Michelin stars by remaking medieval recipes. They learn from their mistakes, adjust the ingredients and invent new strategies to ensure they successfully ‘hit the spot’ each time and challenge boundaries. In much the same way, as the post-pandemic era approaches, it is important to reflect on and reinvent the healthcare ecosystem that was abruptly shaken up by COVID-19. The weight of the world was laid on the shoulders of research experts in the pharmaceutical industry to speedily respond to the crisis and now they must do the same during the next phase: recovery.
Speaking at ‘Reuters Events: Pharma 2021’, Iskra Reic, Executive Vice President, Europe and Canada, AstraZeneca, reflects on the pandemic, stating: “Not one single healthcare system was prepared to handle this type of crisis.” She emphasises that while COVID-19 patients were affected, as were all chronic patients who could not access their respective healthcare systems. These challenges sparked a blossoming of partnerships between key stakeholders across academia, governments and the pharma industry, with each facet coming together to achieve a common goal. This culture of collaboration gained momentum during the pandemic as data was generated and shared, and the mission to create a vaccine was executed as a collective effort.
Not one single healthcare system was prepared to handle this type of crisis
Looking to the future, Reic insists on the importance of reviewing current practices, as well as those from before and during the pandemic, to ensure they are more resilient, sustainable and dependable for the next crisis. She also emphasises the significance of aligning all pharma stakeholders around patient value to address Europe’s long-term healthcare issues, such as chronic and rare diseases, many of which have been exacerbated by COVID-19. The value of partnership across public-private systems should not only be applied in context of a crisis but must be utilised to improve access and patient care in the long run. According to Reic, an ongoing project between AstraZeneca, the World Economic Forum and the London School of Economics is exploring ways in which the European healthcare system could be more sustainable in the future.
The issue of pricing is another challenge facing healthcare systems. It is an issue that has been a historic pain point, as well as a rising concern in the wake of COVID-19. Also speaking at the Reuters event, Jo De Cock, Former Administrator General, INAMI and temporary advisor for the World Health Organization, draws attention to the International Horizon Scanning initiative, which supplies real-world evidence on emerging products and empowers political decision-makers and healthcare payer organisations to establish better pricing systems for medicinal products. “We should invest more in developing a practice of evidence generation, not only for health technology assessment (HTA) reasons but also for making clear the clinical benefits of products coming into the market,” he attests.
Also at the Reuters event, and speaking in agreement with De Cock, Meindert Boysen, Deputy Chief Executive and Director, the Centre for Health Technology Evaluation, NICE, describes an ongoing five-year strategy for health technology evaluation that involves four pillars: rapid, robust and responsive technology evaluation; dynamic living guideline recommendations; effective guidance uptake to maximise impact; and leadership in data, research and science. NICE has put forward notable change proposals, with a bullseye focus on real-world evidence and clinical outcomes. “We have launched the Innovative Licensing and Access Pathway, which is a collaboration between the MHRA – the regulatory body in UK – and HTA agencies,” says Boysen. “We need to understand the data requirements for new innovations early and we need to collaborate with companies, regulators, HTA agencies and research communities in developing an action plan.”
While collaboration and renewed approaches to evidence generation are vital, improved communication between the pharma industry and its intended patient populations could also solve some of the legacy health challenges that are currently impacting European healthcare systems. The pandemic exposed the prevalence of misinformation, and fake news thrived in the environment of uncertainty. This lack of knowledge disrupted the healthcare ecosystem as patients became reluctant to attend hospitals for screenings and check-ups, and vaccine hesitancy was revealed. Nathalie Moll, Director General, European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), says: “There is a lot more collaboration needed on the pharma side in order to make a patient’s journey more comfortable by sharing information.”
There is a lot more collaboration needed on the pharma side in order to make a patient’s journey more comfortable
Just as chefs slice and dice their way to a Michelin star dish, pharma must strive for excellence across all European healthcare systems by ensuring patients are at the centre of each, and the appetite for innovation is voracious. By adopting innovative technologies, the pharma industry could address the black hole of unmet needs of patients through data generation and collaboration, and implement fast and flexible strategies to improve access and care in Europe.