#EAPM – Worst-hit EU countries back ‘lockdowns’, while conference experts want more diagnostics

| March 25, 2020

Given the circumstances in which we all find ourselves, and the subsequent social distancing, self-isolating and inevitable cancelling of events, EAPM’s virtual conference of yesterday (24 March) was an incredible success, writes  European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan.

No fewer than 18 MEPs were among the hundreds of stakeholder delegates tuning in and contributing. Three of the 18 deputies delivered speeches during the highly informative sessions.

It was a marathon conference, taking place throughout the whole day, and also involved were EMA representatives, plus speakers from the European Commission’s DG SANTE, DG Connect and DG Research.  

Originally scheduled to be held live’ in the Belgian capital of Brussels, it was reworked due to the COVID-19 crisis so the event could, nevertheless, take place online.

A swathe of stakeholders and experts came together for the key ‘gathering’, which was entitled ‘Defining the healthcare ecosystem to determine value’. It was EAPM’s 8th annual conference and, this year, was held under the auspices of the Croatia EU Presidency.

How it went…

Those tuning into the lively and interactive sessions represented the multi stakeholder nature that has always characterised the Alliance since its formation – for example patients, scientists, clinicians, researchers, policy makers, key national representatives, journalists and more.  

One of the key aspects surrounding the invitation of patient speakers was to further our consistent goal of keeping the person in personalised medicine, as well as to ensure that the outcome of each session was inclusive, and represented shared decision making.  

The Alliance would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our speakers, not least those doctors and clinicians who took time out from busy hospital duties to speak during relevant sessions. How do they do it? We are all in awe…  

Each session was as interactive as possible and saw panelists asked a key question at the start. This was followed by a poll of ‘attendees’ later.

For example – one question was ‘How should the EU support member states in tackling COVID-19?

The options were ‘financially’, re-allocation of medical requirement’, ‘setting and ensuring guidelines are followed’, ‘re-allocation of medical staff’, and ‘ensuring essential medicines and diagnostics are developed.’

Spoiler alert: The latter came out on top with 43%.

Asked during the conference whether the EU follow America by giving orphan designation to potential coronavirus drugs, the European CommissionKaja Kantorska said, “we do differ a lot”.

To be fair, with some governors Stateside estimating that some 40–60% of citizens could be infected, this begs the question whether that qualifies it as a ‘rare’ disease. Hmm.

Meanwhile during the conference, former DG SANTE official (he’s still an advisor) Antoni Montserrat found a moment to point out that some countries screen infants for a mere two congenital diseases, while others look for up to 42. 

A regular at EAPM events, Antoni called for a common European framework on the screening of newborns.

So many important things are happening in Europe and beyond at the moment that, other than the above, we will not give too much detail of the event here, today. But rest assured that a report will follow in the near future…

Beyond the conference…

Europe’s leaders are apparently already looking beyond the current crisis and will “start to prepare the measures necessary to get back to a normal functioning of our societies and to sustainable growth, drawing all lessons from the crisis”.

This is according to a draft joint statement” which is set be agreed during an imminent videoconference. 

This will require an exit strategy, a comprehensive recovery plan and unprecedented investment,” adds the statement, reports Politico.

To continue: “To this end we invite the Commission to start work on a proposal for a Roadmap for recovery accompanied by an Action Plan” by the members of the European Council”. 

Ultimately, this could mean the setting up of a true European Crisis Management Centre” as “the time has come to put into place a more ambitious and wide-ranging crisis management system within the EU”.

“The urgency is presently on fighting the Coronavirus pandemic and its immediate consequences,” the draft reads. Exactly, and as if they werent busy enough, eh? Nevertheless, this would be a welcome measure.

Meanwhile, the draft continues: “We call on the member states, together with the High Representative and the Commission, to further step up their efforts to ensure that EU citizens stranded in third countries who want to go home can do so.”

Testing, testing…

To test or not to test? That is the question. And even if you think that testing is the absolute answer, access to it is all over the place at the moment. Europe’s health officials in Europe, and some citizens are getting grumpy.

Since infected people can spread the virus before symptoms show, more and more Europeans want to get tested. But this is proving difficult, to say the least.

Jean-François Delfraissy, president of the French Scientific Coronavirus Committee, believes that massive testing is necessary. As it stands, most EU countries are targeting the most severe cases for testing, as resources are scarce. 

It has been suggested that a solution could lie with developing antibody tests that can detect whether people have been infected. False negatives are a distinct possibility, yet it could be handy to know down the line how many people were actually infected, even if they didnt have symptoms.

Meanwhile, the WHO is working with labs to find out whether those infected who come out of it at the other end relatively unscathed are then protected against the virus,.

Richard Pebody, the WHO Europe Team Lead for High Threat Pathogens, says that such knowledge would gift us with the knowledge of the proportion of the population that is symptomatic, and, by extension, what proportion is infected. 

The theory is that we could then understand the future course of the epidemic in different populations. We havent got it yet, but were getting very close,” Pebody said.

More negatively, some health experts, however, think we’ve already missed the boat for testing.

We will not get that disease out of the world anymore,” said Mika Salminen, who is director of health at the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare.

Salminen says he understands peoples desire to be tested, but those who can ride out the virus at home wont benefit from it.

The test is not a cure,” he reminded us all.

Nevertheless, suppliers are increasing production, although some are reaching capacity and there’s little clue as to how long it would take to increase it. Testing times, indeed…

The lowdown on lockdowns

It seems that most people in ItalySpain and France support the social distancing ‘lockdown’ measures being employed in their countries to slow down the spread of the virus.

As it stands, these are the three European countries worst-hit by the pandemic in terms of mortality rates, and polls have shown that citizens are more concerned about the impact of the virus on public health than they are about the economy (are you listening Donald Trump?).

An incredible 90% of those in Italy support strict social distancing measures, with 88% of those in Spain backing government rules. France was just a touch behind with 87%. These are huge numbers in favour.

Trial and error?

The WHO has said that small, non-randomized studies of drugs that could work against coronavirus will not give us the answers we need”.

The organization argues that using untested medicines without the right evidence could raise false hope” and impact on the supplies of essential medicines.

Meanwhile, four drugs that could work against COVID-19  are now involved in a recently begun test in France.

Included are remdesivir; a combination of lopinavir with ritonavir; and another combination of lopinavir, ritonavir and interferon beta. The trial will include 3,200 coronavirus patients from Belgiumthe NetherlandsLuxembourg, the UKGermany, France and Spain. 

Many thanks again to all those who spoke at, and joined in, our virtual conference. Be sure to look out for the upcoming report.


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

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