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Commission approves €67.5 million Maltese scheme to support SMEs affected by coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €67.5 million Maltese scheme to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. The public support will take the form of state guarantees on loans for a nominal value of up to €250,000 per company. The purpose of the scheme is to provide access to working capital to those SMEs that are facing sudden liquidity shortages due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Commission found that the Maltese scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the amount of aid will not exceed €800,000 per company (€100,000 per company active in the primary production of agriculture products; €120,000 per company active in the fishery and aquaculture sector) as provided by the Temporary Framework. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.57961 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. 

Cancer

EAPM: Cancer is key for health experts as EU Beating Cancer Plan approaches

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Welcome, health colleagues, to the latest update from the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) – November and December will see a renewed focus, both from EAPM and the EU institutions, to issues of cancer mortality and treatment, which have not gone away, pandemic or no pandemic. The EU Beating Cancer Plan is taking shape from 10 December and, ahead of that, EAPM is focusing on its own approach to the disease based on our multi-stakeholder engagement and the role of diagnostics during the month ahead. In addition, the EAPM Newsletter will be available from tomorrow (30 October), writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan. 

Beating cancer – the road to success

While the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan aims to reduce the cancer burden for patients, their families and health systems. It is set to address cancer-related inequalities between and within member states with actions to support, co-ordinate and complement member states’ efforts.

In terms of its implementation, EAPM have advocated that the European Beating Cancer Plan needs to be realistic and measurable, so it should come with a dashboard of indicators that can be monitored, and which would enable evaluation to monitor the effectiveness of this plan.

In cancer, the important role of high-quality diagnostics as well as pathological expertise is not yet broadly recognized. If you have a symptom or a screening test result that suggests cancer, your doctor must find out whether it is due to cancer or some other cause. The doctor may start by asking about your personal and family medical history and do a physical exam. The doctor also may order lab tests, imaging tests (scans), or other tests or procedures. You may also need a biopsy, which is often the only way to tell for sure if you have cancer. To identify the right treatment, early diagnosis is essential. 

As such for the area of lung cancer, a more targeted approach to screening is warranted and appropriate stratification should be considered.

Taking into account the shortage of expertise within countries, the role of cross-country molecular tumour board will have an important role.  A governance framework for the way that data can be shared between countries will be essentials here.

EAPM has brought these and other issues before MEPs over recent months since our successful seminar series at the European Society of Medical Congress during the recent EU Presidency conference. 

Commission plan receives support from cancer committee for treatment

With more than 40% of cancers preventable, the EU can do more to tackle the disease, one of the leading causes of mortality in Europe, according to the European Parliament’s cancer committee. “By pooling all our talents, knowledge and resources, we can truly join all our forces in the fight against cancer.” So claimed Manfred Weber during the 2019 elections, paving the way for a special committee in the fight against cancer. Today this committee is a reality. This fight will be a priority for many in the coming years. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a European Plan to fight Cancer in her political guidelines and Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has shown her ambitions in presenting the EU Beating Cancer Plan in the Parliament, which will be finalised by the end of 2020. This special committee is needed now more than ever. 

By pooling resources and expertise, a comprehensive European cancer masterplan can be created, acting as a catalyst for thorough and innovative cancer care and research, which should be focused on prevention, specialized care and treatment that puts the patients at its heart, as well as a zero-pollution environment. Prevention is key in the fight against cancer, and cancer treatment requires the correct specialized therapy. As early as 2003, the Council issued recommendations to roll out cancer screening programmes for some of the more prevalent cancers, but their implementation is far from complete. Increased investment through programmes such as Horizon 2020, as well as knowledge-sharing bodies like the European Reference Networks, are invaluable policy tools that the EU has at its disposal in the Beating Cancer Plan.

EU needs more power on health policy, says Commission's Irish rep

The European Commission’s representative to Ireland Gerry Kiely, speaking on Wednesday (28 October), told the Irish parliament that the EU’s contribution to fighting COVID-19 was initially limited because member states wanted it so. But the member states must collectively manage a long and difficult shared crisis, he added, going on to say that surveillance across the EU, and indeed within Member States, is still slow, inconsistent and patchy. The ECDC can provide common methodologies for information gathering, but it has no way to ensure that member states provide information in the prescribed manner.

To make information flows more integrated and useful, the EU could direct resources and create obligations for member states to improve surveillance and reporting. As far as the ECDC is concerned, it has very little power, let alone budget, to respond in a way comparable to its US counterpart. The Commission is set to announce just how this agency’s role will change in two weeks’ time. 

COVID-19 co-ordination

European leaders are set to meet online today to discuss COVID-19 co-ordination, following the 15 October European Council. “Even though member states are better prepared and more co-ordinated than in the early months of the pandemic, citizens, families and communities across Europe continue to face an unprecedented risk to their health and well-being,” said a Commission statement.

UK under pressure as COVID-19 epidemic doubles every nine days 

The British government is under pressure to develop a national strategy to combat a surge of COVID-19 cases and "rescue Christmas'' as scientists warn that the number of people hospitalized with the disease in the UK could almost triple by the end of next month unless something more is done now. Mark Walport, a former chief scientific officer, said Britain only needs to look across the English Channel to see what's coming. Britain's current measures are similar to those in France and Spain, where authorities are struggling to control the virus and daily cases have already far outstripped those in the UK. "With our current measures… there's little evidence that there is as much social distancing as there was when we clamped down on the first wave and so we know that the risk is significant that cases will continue to grow," Walport told the BBC. It is "not unrealistic'' that 25,000 people in the UK could be hospitalized by the end of November—up from about 9,000 now, he said. 

Germany shuts up shop

On Wednesday (28 October), Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s state premiers agreed to close bars, restaurants, gyms, pools, cinemas and other non-essential businesses nationwide for the month of November. “We have to act now to avoid an acute national emergency,” Merkel said. “The experts told us we have to reduce the number of contacts by 75% — that’s a lot.”

France est fermé

President Emmanuel Macron has announced his own national lockdown starting Friday (30 October), with restaurants and bars to be closed but schools, public services and some factories remaining open. Unlike in the first lockdown, visits to nursing homes will be allowed. 

Von der Leyen: EU could vaccinate 700M people against coronavirus

The EU could vaccinate 700 million people with large supplies of vaccines due to begin in April 2021, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said today (29 October). Von der Leyen also reiterated her call for the harmonization of countries’ vaccination plans. “There are many issues to be considered for an effective vaccine deployment,” she said, pointing to questions around infrastructure, such as cold chains. 

Health data space en route

The Commission is pushing forward plans for a European health data space, with an interim report from recent expert workshops to be published before the end of 2020, said Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides on Monday (26 October) during the World Health Summit. However, important questions remain about public trust and whether people will be willing to share their data on a pan-EU platform.

And that is everything from EAPM for now – do stay safe and well, look out for the EAPM Newsletter from tomorrow, and have a splendid afternoon.

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Africa

Investment, connectivity and co-operation: Why we need more EU-African co-operation in agriculture

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In recent months, the European Union has demonstrated its willingness to promote and support agricultural businesses in Africa, under European Commission’s Africa-EU Partnership. The Partnership, which stresses EU-African co-operation, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to promote sustainability and biodiversity and have championed promoting public-private relationships across the continent, writes African Green Resources Chairman Zuneid Yousuf.

Though these commitments apply to the entire continent, I would like to focus on how increased African-EU co-operation has helped Zambia, my country. Last month, European Union Ambassador to Zambia Jacek Jankowski announced ENTERPRISE Zambia Challenge Fund (EZCF), an EU-backed initiative that will award grants to agribusiness operators in Zambia. The plan is worth an overall total of €25.9 million and has already launched its first call for proposals. In a time where Zambia, my country, is battling serious economic challenges this is a much-needed opportunity for the African agribusiness industry. More recently, just last week, the EU and Zambia agreed to two financing agreements that hope to boost investments in the country under the Economic Government Support Programme and the Zambia Energy Efficiency Sustainable Transformation Programme.

Europe’s collaboration and commitment to promoting African agriculture is not new. Our European partners have long been invested in promoting and helping African agribusiness realise their full potential and empower the sector. In June of this year, the African and European Unions launched a joint agri-food platform, which aims to link African and European private sectors to promote sustainable and meaningful investment.

The platform was launched off the back of the ‘Africa-Europe alliance for sustainable investment and jobs’ which was part of European Commission President’s Jean Claude Junker’s 2018 state of the Union address, where he called for a new “Africa-Europe alliance” and demonstrated that Africa is at the heart of the Union’s external relations.

The Zambian, and arguably the African agricultural environment, is dominated largely by small-to-medium sized farms that need both financial and institutional support to navigate these challenges. In addition, there is a lack of connectivity and interconnectedness within the sector, preventing farmers to connect with each other and realise their full potential through cooperation.

What makes EZCF unique among European agribusiness initiatives in Africa, however, is its specific focus on Zambia and empowering Zambian farmers. Over the past few years, the Zambian farming industry has grappled with droughts, lack of reliable infrastructure and unemployment. In fact, throughout 2019, it is estimated that a severe drought in Zambia led to 2.3 million people requiring emergency food assistance.

Therefore, a solely Zambia-focused initiative, backed by the European Union and aligned with promoting increased connectedness and investment in agriculture, not only reinforces Europe’s strong connection with Zambia, but will also bring some much-needed support and opportunity for the sector. This will undoubtedly allow our local farmers to unlock and leverage a wide range of financial resources.

More importantly, the EZCF is not operating alone. Alongside international initiatives, Zambia is already home to several impressive and important agribusiness companies that are working to empower and provide farmers with access to funding and capital markets.

One of these is African Green Resources (AGR) a world-class agribusiness company of which I am proud to be the chairman. At AGR, the focus is to promote value addition at every level of the farming value chain, as well as look for sustainable strategies for farmers to maximise their yields. For example, in March this year, AGR teamed up with several commercial farmers and multilateral agencies to develop a private sector financed irrigation scheme and dam and off grid solar supply which will support over 2,400 horticultural farmers, and expand grain production and new fruit plantations in the Mkushi farming block in Central Zambia. Over the next few years, our focus will be to continue promoting sustainability and the implementation of similar initiatives, and we are ready to invest alongside other agribusiness companies that seek to expand, modernise or diversify their operations.

Though it appears that the agricultural sector in Zambia may be facing challenges in the years to come, there are some very important milestones and reasons for optimism and opportunity. Increased cooperation with the European Union and European partners is an important way of capitalizing on opportunity and ensuring that we are all doing as much as we can to help small and medium sized farmers across the country.

Promoting increased interconnectedness within the private sector will help ensure that small farmers, the backbone of our national agricultural industry, are supported and empowered to collaborate, and share their resources with larger markets. I believe that both European and local agribusiness companies are heading in the right direction by looking into ways of promoting agribusiness, and I hope that together, we can all sustainably promote these goals on the regional and international stage.

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coronavirus

Coronavirus: EU-funded project launches a clinical trial for coronavirus treatment in Italy

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The Italian pharmaceutical regulatory agency, AIFA, has greenlighted a clinical trial for the use of Raloxifene in patients with mild symptoms caused by the coronavirus. In June 2020, the EU-funded consortium Exscalate4CoV using European supercomputing had announced that the registered generic drug used to treat osteoporosis could be an effective treatment for coronavirus. The European Commission supported the E4C Consortium with €3 million.

This is one of many examples of how the EU's research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 helps counter the coronavirus pandemic and develop new treatments. The clinical study should validate the safety and efficiency of Raloxifene in blocking the replication of the virus in cells, and thus hold up the progression of the disease. The study will take place at the National Institute for Infectious Diseases ‘L. Spallanzani' in Rome, Italy and will also involve the Humanitas Research Hospital in Milan.

In the initial phase, up to 450 participants in three separate treatment groups will be administered a 7-day treatment of Raloxifene capsules in a randomised sample. Exscalate4CoV, using a unique combination of high performance computing power and AI with biological processing, screened 400,000 molecules and specifically tested 7,000 molecules in vitro. You will find more information in the consortium press release.

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