#EAPM – Parliament united on cancer, but #VDL still can’t please everyone

| September 20, 2019

Welcome to EAPM’s latest health-care update, and let’s kick-off today with news that the evaluation of the orphan drugs and paediatrics regulations should be published at the beginning of 2020, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan.

This according to soon-to-depart Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, who said as much to the European Parliament during its cancer debate earlier this week.

During the debate this week in Strasbourg, MEPs united tocall for more European co-operation on fighting cancer at all levels. That means from politicians,to researchers and doctors. 

Manfred Weber, the one-time Spitzenkandidat for the EPP group who stood on a fight-against-cancer platform, told the gathering of deputies in Strasbourg that 40% of Europeans will experience cance rand that, every second, a cancer patient dies. 

Three-quarters of Europeans have called for combating cancer to be a top issue for the EU, and the EPP has called for the establishment of a special EP committee to fight cancer. 

Commissioner Andriukaitis said that the next Commission would focus on fighting cancer at all levels, including its causes.The currenFinnish Presidency of the EU, meanwhile, noted the role of the economy of wellbeing in the fight against cancer.

Finnish European Affairs Minister Tytti Tuppurainen said that the debate came at the right point in time, given that cancer is on course to become the leading cause of death in most EU countries. 

She added that research also shows that high mortality is not necessarily related to risk factors but could be related to access to healthcare. All EU citizens should be able to live a healthy life, the minister stressed,and have equal access to health care.

With such high goals, close collaboration between institutions, stakeholders and sectors is needed, the MEPs heard.

Given the EU-wide agreement that cancer should be a priority, Europe requires research, access to medicines and screening to push the agenda.

Minister Tuppurainen said that the Council and Parliament has agreed to include cancer research under the Horizon Europe framework, which will improve treatment and allow member states better to tailor their public health interventions. 

Commissioner Andriukaitis, who has lost three brothers to cancer, said that Europe needs to put its money  on remedies that are not only from a doctor or the health commissioner. These, he said,are political questions, including risk factors and determinants, both social and political. 

He noted that Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s letter to her proposed Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, focuses on ways to ensure that Europe will have affordable medicines, and said he is pleasedthat the cancer plan has been included in the political priorities of the new president.

The EPP’s Ewa Kopazc called fornew incentives for cancer research. Cooperation between academic centres is also required,as is cooperation and exchange of best practice, she insisted.

The Polish MEPsaid that everyone should work above party lines to set up a special committee on cancer. This would be possible under Article 207 of the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, she said.

S&D MEP Sara Cerdas pointed out that cancer has an impact both on health systems and on the EU economy, adding that cases could be reduced by more preventive strategies. The Portuguese deputy also called for support for scientific research to underpin any new decisionswith the best information.

Cancer specialist Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, of the Renew Europe group, said that cancer medicines have to be available at a reasonable price, while more funding is required as part of Horizon Europe.

The French MEP underlined that cancer is also a social injustice, due to inequalities in terms of prevention, the speed of diagnosis and treatment. 

Green deputy Michèle Rivasi said that Europe is witnessing an increase in chronic diseases, noting that there could be a doubling of cancer patients by 2025.

And the EPP’s Dubravka Šuica felt that there were no political differences on the topic of cancer, and wanted to praise the work of the current Commission while hoping that its successor would invest in research to enable access to medicines. 

MEP Elena Kountoura told the gathering that breast cancer kills more women worldwide than any other cancer. If diagnosed in good time, breast cancer is 100% treatable, she said.

She called for programmes and awareness raising to be put at the front line to ensure that all patients have access to treatment. 

Meanwhile, French MEP Chrysoula Zacharopoulou highlighted that cervical cancer is one of the deadliest of cancers.A great number of women die from it but, thanks to vaccination, women can be saved. 

Renew Europe’s Susana Solís Pérez said that research and innovation are vitally important. Here,  the Spanish MEP said, is where Parliament plays a key role. It can demand that Horizon Europe should have enough money for researchers. She addedthat EU institutions are working together to ensure that researchers have all the resources that they need.

Minister Tuppurainen wound up the debate.by reiterating that cancer is a tragedy at the personal level. It is a fight that can be lost,despite all efforts of will and the best help available. Therefore, the EU should use every tool available to it.

Alliance round table 

EAPM is organizing a key round table discussion on 8 October, in the European Parliament in Brussels, which will feature six sessions, dealing with topics to include cancer, rare diseases and enablers, plus prevention of lung and prostate cancers.

The over-riding goal for the meeting is to identify and fill the implementation gap that exists when aiming to introduce innovation into Europes health-care systems, especially in cancer.

ENVI’s health challenges

Eurobarometer surveys show that health is a main concern of Europeans and a policy area in whichthe EUhas been asked to do more. 

Nearly 10% of the EUs GDP is spent on health care while, despite gains in life expectancy, Europeans on average spend between almost a quarter and a fifth of their lives with a disability.

More than 1.2 million people in the EU in 2013 died from illnesses and injuries that might have been avoided, while the burden of ill-health and premature mortality falls disproportionately on people exposed to socio-economic vulnerabilities.

A number of public health-relevant procedures that are currently in progress and assigned to the ENVI committee – such as developing an ethics-based digital future and enhancing the inclusiveness and integrity of policymaking are closely linked to public health challenges.

An ENVI Mission Letter to the Commissioner-designate for Health describes several priorities, among them tackling vaccine hesitancy alongside ensuring the effective and future-oriented implementation of the medical devices regulations.

The Mission Letter calls for making use of opportunities offered by e-health and prioritizes the creation of a European Health Data Space. Different challenges in this space remain to be addressed, such as the ethical and equity implications of digitalization, m-health, data privacy and ownership, 

Meanwhile, artificial Intelligence, digital marketing, and the wider implications of digitalization for health systems, including the evolution of personalised medicine are key priorities going forward.

On top of this, the ENVI committees role on international trade andinvestment agreements and the EUs approach to global health may provide significant added value for public health. 

The same applies to ensuring adequate funding allocations in the EU budget for the effective pursuit of health and health equity objectives.

Not all is cosy in Parliament…

Despite cross-party consensus on the need for further action on cancer, not all is rosy in the garden. The Socialist group in Parliament wants two things from Commission President-elect von der Leyen– more power for its own commissioners and less power for those from the EPP.

The S&D’s chair Iratxe García wrote to vdL this week, saying: “We are disappointed to notice the unbalanced roles proposed to your future executive Vice-Presidents, which does not adequately reflect the the balance of powers that resulted from the European elections.

Thats a pretty clear reference to von der Leyen making the EPPValdis Dombrovskis her third executive vice-president, with the Sustainable Investment Plan part of Dombrovskis’ brief of “an economy which works for the people”.

Their argument seems to be that the investment plan should sit under their own man, Frans Timmerman’s, Green Deal portfolio.

Not quite the green light Ursula may have hoped for, if not actually expected.

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