#Balkans big on enlargement and health-care agendas

| October 25, 2019

The European Parliament has been in Strasbourg this week, as was EAPM, but on Thursday we hot-footed it to the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, for our jointly organised conference with BAPPM on Forward Together in the Personalised Medicine Era, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan.

The two-day event is being run by EAPM and the Bulgarian Alliance for Precision and Personalized Medicine, in collaboration with the Medical University Pleven, and the Bulgarian Society of Human Genetics and Genomics.

The conference dovetails perfectly with EAPMs now long-running ‘SMART Outreach’ strategy (with SMART standing for Smaller Member states And Regions Together) and has brought together representatives from a broad stakeholder base drawn from across the Balkans Region and beyond.

Bulgarias own Maryia Gabriel, who over the past five years has done an excellent job as European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society,and is soon to be Commissioner for Innovation and Youth in the Ursula von der Leyen administration, was with us in Sofia and warmly greeted.

She was very upbeat about international collaborations as well as highlighting that €35 million investment will be opened in November this year for this domain, and Horizon Europes €100 billion in total for different areas.

One of the incoming Commissions key missions, she reminded attendees, is fighting cancer, and Gabriel spoke about the need to firmly set goals in this regard and to develop close international collaborations, while pushing the frameworks of digital health hubs across the bloc.

The Commissioner told the audience that its clear that more innovations are required in order to implement the principles of personalised medicine, pointing out that, while a lot of data is being definitely generated, ensuring secure data access and storage remains of major significance for further actions.

Additionally, societal and ethical standards that recognize the core EU values need to enshrined in all of these actions.  

EU member state collaboration is clearly key, as she emphasised by saying that the integration of personalised medicine into Europes healthcare systems requires “interdisciplinary cross-border collaboration and effort from everyone”.  

Bulgarias Deputy Minister of Education and Science Karina Angelieva told the audience that her country has been a successful partner in the bio-banking sector and is an established Balkan leader, although a stronger network with the Western Balkans is necessary.

She added: “Investments are in vain if a broad collaboration is not established and operational. Collaboration and co-operation is essential.

BAPPM Chairwoman Dr. Jasmina Koeva said: “Its clear that we need to take into account the broad impact of personalised medicine, which promises to create a new paradigm in healthcare. Given that no member state can realistically go it alone when it comes to modern-day health care, the key question is how to move forward.

“Cross-border collaboration is vital and, with this in mind, countries here in the Balkan region are aiming to work side-by-side to develop a coherent action for public-private collaboration between the relevant countries, creating a model that others may follow.”

She added: “There are solid arguments that what we need is more, not less, Europe – and for practical purposes that means less silo thinking and more cooperation, across borders and across disciplines. Lets develop the process here in Sofia over the next two days.”

EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan said: “Europe needs to develop a framework that will enable the sharing of best practices within, in this case, the Balkan region, and develop a coherent action for public-private collaboration between the relevant countries, creating a model that others may follow.

“Breakthroughs in genetics, calls for more and better screening, developments in imaging techniques and the emergence of what we now call ‘Big Data’ have already changed the world of healthcare for ever. All for the benefit of patients.

“But we need to share more of these new scientific methods and enable higher levels of collaboration. This holds true in the Balkans as anywhere else,” Horgan added.

“We are delighted that Commissioner Gabriel is not only all-too aware of this, but is playing a vital role in making it happen,” he said.

Finnish-ing post?

As we know, Finland currently holds the rotating EU Presidency of the EU, and Finnish geneticist Tuula Helander took to the conference floor to explain that there are a cluster of centres of excellency under development in Finland, and gave the example that her country aims to be a source and user of high quality and versatile  scientific research, inventions and innovations.

She also emphasized the importance of “leveraging health data required to accelerate personalised medicine and the health sector”.

Tullas country is, of course, focusing on citizens well-being during its presidency, and her presence at the event in Sofia is hugely significant and welcome.

Parliament and the Balkans… 

The timing and place of the conference is certainly apposite, given that MEPs recently urged Parliament President David Sassolito visit the Western Balkans “as soon as possible”.

They also asked him to pass on the institutions support for enlargement and the region more generally.

Lest we forget, several Balkan states are engaged in enlargement talks. And this weeks meeting of the Corepersawan “intense discussion” between ambassadors about the topic.

Most ambassadors got stuck in, and the debate served to show that EU countries are “very split” on any possible way forward. 

France, in particular, is annoyed with those Member States who favour further enlargement. The latter group includes Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and they want the issue back on the agenda for when ministers meet later this month.

At the moment, there is effectively a stalemate, with a majority backing an accession perspective for North Macedonia and Albania. On the other side of the table, theres a minority inclined to block the move. Under the unanimity rules, just one country can exercise a veto and the games up.

Croatia presidency conference

Meanwhile, with a look to the future, as always, the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine is planning considerable engagement with the two presidencies coming up in 2020 – namely Croatia and Germany.

And, as usual, this will be partly achieved through key, high-level events, taking in the Member State presidencies as well as input from the European Parliament and a broad range of stakeholders, including industry.

Croatia takes over the EU Presidency in January 2020, so EAPM is hosting a steering group event on 24-25 March, with the main topics geared around gene sequencing, early diagnosis and the broader aspects of health innovation.

The chance exists to re-align priorities to evaluate the needs of patients, healthcare professionals and health systems to facilitate improved and safer therapies.

There is also space and necessity for enhanced collaboration between EU regulatory and payer groups. This would have the aim of identifying core outcomes other than survival that can be incorporated into trials, as well as healthcare systems, to generate data throughout the lifecycle.

EAPM has always espoused the principals of cross-border collaboration and is working hard to get the message out there, on the ground, in individual member states, the regions they inhabit, and also the regions within those member states.

The Balkans in its entirety and, within the region, Bulgaria and Croatia can play a major role, hence our considerable engagement at the conference this week in Sofia.


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Category: A Frontpage, EU, European Alliance for Personalised Medicine, Health, Personalised medicine

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