#EAPM – All change at Number 10, but no change of stance in Brussels

| July 24, 2019

Greetings, colleagues, and welcome to our latest update here on ‘Boris Day’, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Who would have thought a year ago that Boris Johnson would be about to move into Number 10 Downing Street, official home of the UK Prime Minister?

Then again, three years ago not too many believed that Britain would be heading for the Brexit door, or that Donald Trump would be working his way towards the White House.

It’s a funny old world, as they say.

Departing premier Theresa May will hold her last Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons today (24 July), and pop off to see Her Majesty The Queen, as will Boris in due course.

One can only image what will be going through the experienced monarch’s mind as she formally asks the former Lord Mayor of London, one-time Brexit ‘negotiator’ and ex-Foreign Minister to form a government.

After his victory in the Conservative Party leadership election was announced, Johnson was unsurprisingly upbeat, saying: “We are going to get Brexit done on 31 October. We are going to take advantage of all the opportunities. 

It will bring in a new spirit of can-do and we are once again going to believe in ourselves and what we can achieve, and like some slumbering giant, we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity.

OK, ‘dude’…If you say so…

Over in Brussels…

…Boris can hardly expect a love-in, at least if comments by current European Commissioner for Health Vytenis Andriukaitisare anything to go by.

The Lithuanian compared the mop-headed oneto another Boris, namely Boris Yeltsin, in a blog yesterday.

“Without comparing the UK itself with the USSR because it is not comparable, I cant think of a better golden standard than the USSR in terms of fact distortion, reality falsification and blunt oblivions of reality,” wrote Andriukaitis.

He added that the heroes of the perestroika era” swore to “create a market economy in post-Soviet Russia within 500 days!” but this never became a reality. People paid for these empty and broken promises with impoverishment, inequality and much more. The programme also left one infamous quote: ‘Boris, ti ne prav’ (‘Boris, you are wrong)!”

The commissioner went on: “It is a different Boris, of course, but there was something in the way of doing politics that was similar: many unrealistic promises, ignoring economic rationales and rational decisions. These decisions led to a new autocratic constitution and finally paved the way to Vladimir Putin

Today in Russia we have oligarchs, a pseudo-market economy, a regulated, governed pseudo-democracy. And Putins authoritarianism. For Boris Yeltsin, the warning came true: Boris, you are wrong.Hopefully, it will not be the case for Boris Johnson…”

Andriukaitis said he “can only wish him luck in taking back control,’ spending more money on the NHS, swiftly concluding new trade agreements”.

So there we have it – Lithuanians do a great line in sarcasm. Who knew?

On the street where you live

Meanwhile, over to Number 10, where ‘BoJo’ will presumably try to make good on his claim that the £350 million per-week his battle bus said the UK pays to the EU budget could be used to fund the NHS.

Of course he won’t, as it was all nonsense.

In the meantime, the Boris “do or die” no-deal exit has been called “the worst-case-scenariofor pharmaceutical companies and pretty-much anyone involved in healthcare. Oh, and patients, who may well bear the brunt of potential medicine shortages.

Also on health-related matters, the new premier has declared against higher taxes for sugary drinks, despite the idea being backed by public health advocates to fight obesity, diabetes, et al.

With impeccable timing (well, Theresa May thought so – ‘legacy’ anyone?) a consultation paper on tougher public health rules was released by the Department of Health and Social Care late on Monday.

It talks about embedding genomics into routine health care and making England smoke-free by 2030 – although it doesn’t suggest forcing Big Tobacco into paying for smoke-quitting services. Instead, it advocates inserts in tobacco products giving quitting advice. 

Wow! That surely has to be lots better and much-more persuasive than packet-pictures of smokers on breathing equipment and men being told they won’t be able to get an erection if they keep clanging off the ciggies.

The pictures are now largely ignored (a Zippo lighter is the perfect size to cover one, by the way) and leaflets will probably simply be left in ashtrays after a cursory glance at the first one. Meanwhile, where’s a lung-cancer screening programme in all this?

For his part, current UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been accused of caving in “under pressure from Boris Johnson and the corporate lobbyists running his campaign”.

And so to Strasbourg…

…where Krista Kiuru, the (fairly) recently installed Finnish minister of family affairs and social services, spoke to the European Parliaments Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee (ENVI) on Tuesday. 

Kiuru has the health-care brief and underlined Helsinki’s “Economy of Wellbeing” priorities under Finland’s six-month EU presidency, zooming in on poor mental health across the bloc.

“We need better EU action in this field,” she said.

That’s all very well, thinks the EPP, which has put a big focus on cancer –endorsed by Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen.

Kiuru was therefore askedto launch an initiative on cancer during the presidency, and amend the EU budget to finance the plan.

Later, the minister said: “We should have more equal access to treatments” between countries, adding that improved access to health data would boost European cooperation to find a better cure to cancer and other diseases”.

On HTA, meanwhile, an ongoing file that Finland has inherited, Kiuru said her country is “committed to maximizing progress”. “However,” she warned, “the challenges might be quite big compared to the expectations we are having. So we are pragmatic.

Staying on HTA, the ENVI committee is due to meet later today for the final time before the summer recess, and Politico reports that “file distribution could be on the table”.

There probably won’t be anew rapporteur named today, but the S&D Group is favourite to retain the file in the regrettable absence of former rapporteur and Spanish MEP Soledad Cabezón Ruiz, who didn’t put herself up for re-election.

EAPM’s friend Peter Liese (also EPP) pointed out that there are now former health ministers from Spain and Poland in ENVI, and quite a few more health experts than in the previous Parliament.Good news.

Less good news for that HTA file (now in Council), which has been dogging the last three EU presidencies, given that the Finns don’t expect to be able to wrap it up either.

Some say the whole thing may end up in the bin, given that Croatia is not expected to make much progress when it takes over on 1 January and the following presidency, Germany, is against any mandatory aspects of EU-wide joint HTA.

Come back Soledad Cabezón Ruiz. Europe’s patients need you!

Paediatric medicines

Departing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, in one of his few tangible moves on healthcare, had planned for cash to be made available under his ‘investment plan’ for paediatric drugs.

With that in mind, the European Investment Bank has signed a 20 million loan agreement with French pharmaceutical company Advicenne, which specializes in orphan drugs.

This money is designed to support the company as it looks to expand its orphan drug portfolio. 

And finally…

Back to Boris. Before he’s even had time to have the bed linen changed at Number 10, he’s already been told by the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier that the Frenchman looks forward “to working constructively to facilitate the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement and achieve an orderly Brexit“.

Translation: ‘No renegotiation, old bean.’

For her part, Ursula von der Leyenvery quickly said: “I think its very important to build up a strong and good working relationship because we have the duty to deliver something which is good for people in Europe and in the United Kingdom.

Translation #2: “No-deal …..”

Until next time, have a good weekend…

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