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Coronavirus response: Over €1 billion from EU Cohesion policy to support Spain's recovery

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The European Commission has approved the modification of nine more Cohesion policy operational programmes in Spain, worth a total of €1.2 billion from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to alleviate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. This comprehensive recovery approach will reallocate funds to strengthen the response capacity of the Spanish health system, will support SMEs contributing to boost the economic sector and develop the ITC of the education and training sectors.

Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira said: “I am glad to see that Spain and its outermost region are taking advantage of the EU Cohesion policy flexibility measures put into place to support citizens, businesses and the health sector in their daily efforts against the virus. The European Commission stands ready to support Spanish regions and all member states thanks to the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII).”

A full list of Spanish regions that benefitted from similar flexibility measures is available here. The modifications are possible thanks to the exceptional flexibility under the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII) and Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus (CRII+) which allow Member states to use Cohesion policy funding to support the most exposed sectors because of the pandemic, such as healthcare, SMEs and labour markets. A press release is available here.

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EAPM – Last chance to register for Million Genome Stakeholder Co-ordination Framework meeting and a ‘stronger’ European Health Union is on the horizon 

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Greetings, colleagues – welcome to the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update, and look sharp – the B1MG meeting takes place tomorrow (21 October), so now is the time to register. And a ‘stronger’ European Health Union is horizon, while COVID 19 and Brexit are still making waves, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

1 Million Genome Stakeholder Coordination Framework meeting

Registration is still very much open for the 1 Million Genome Stakeholder Co-ordination Framework meeting on 21 October. One of the core aims of the initiative is to support the connection of national genomics and data infrastructures, co-ordinate the harmonization of the ethical and legal framework for sharing data of high privacy sensitivity, and give practical guidance for the pan-European co-ordination of implementing genomic technologies in national and European health-care systems. 

Earning and retaining the trust of patients, research participants and society at large is paramount for data sharing in genomics and health. Robust policies, and broad participation of different stakeholders in the development of these policies is key to robust frameworks. The discussion tomorrow will deal with these topics. 

Attendees will be drawn from key stakeholders from the community whose interaction will create a cross sectoral, highly relevant and dynamic discussion forum. These participants will include healthcare professionals, decision makers, patient organisations, and European umbrella organizations representing interest groups and associations actively engaged in the field of personalised medicine. 

Register here and read the full agenda here.

Stronger’ European Health Union

 In the face of COVID-19, the Commission is proposing to build a stronger European Health Union, notably by strengthening the role of existing agencies and establishing a new agency for biomedical advanced research and development. The coronavirus crisis has shown that the European Union lacks effective tools for combatting emergencies that transcend national borders. 

When it comes to health care, there is currently only a minimum level of co-operation at the EU level; member states are responsible for their own health care systems. A divided EU on health issues has shown itself to be troublesome. Think, for example, of the battle between European countries for the last batch of masks, India blocking the export of a possible coronavirus treatment, or Trump using a law of war to make medical equipment available to Americans only. 

At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, it was “every man for himself”. Such an approach was both incomprehensible and indefensible when it comes to our health, if you ask me. Now that we are facing a second wave of COVID-19 patients, we should focus on the future and on working together. 

 The health law and policies adopted within a given territory are based upon the values that society holds central. As such, through its regulatory function, health law and policy formulates, embodies and makes explicit the goals, values and ethics that underpin national health regimes. The WHO envisages health policy as the tool that specifies the health goals of a society, defines a vision for the future and, perhaps most importantly, builds consensus around that vision. 

WTO members reject IP rules waiver for coronavirus technologies

World Trade Organization members have rejected a proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property rights, patents and other protections for any medical technologies relating to COVID-19. Certain members — including the EU, US and the UK — opposed the waiver. “There is no evidence that intellectual property rights are a genuine barrier for accessibility of COVID-19-related medicines and technologies,” said a UK spokesman.

Coronavirus: EU interoperability gateway goes live

To exploit the full potential of contact tracing and warning apps to break the chain of coronavirus infections across borders and save lives, the Commission, at the invitation by member states, has set up an EU-wide system to ensure interoperability – a so-called ‘gateway'. After a successful pilot phase, the system goes live today with the first wave of national apps now linked through this service: Germany's Corona-Warn-App, Ireland's COVID tracker, and Italy's immuni. 

Together, these apps have been downloaded by around 30 million people, which corresponds to two-thirds of all app downloads in the EU. 

Single Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “Many member states have launched voluntary contact tracing and warning apps, and the Commission has supported them in making these apps safely interact with each other. Free movement is an integral part of the Single Market – the gateway is facilitating this while helping save lives.”

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides added: “Coronavirus tracing and warning apps can effectively complement other measures like increased testing and manual contact tracing. 

"With cases on the rise again, they can play an important role to help us break the transmission chains. When working across borders these apps are even more powerful tools. Our gateway system going live today is an important step in our work, and I would call on citizens to make use of such apps, to help protect each other.”

Italy and Austria tighten coronavirus restrictions and six-week coronavirus lockdown in Ireland

Italy and Austria have introduced stricter measures to curb the rise in new coronavirus cases. On Sunday (18 October) Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared the latest restrictions on public life, including midnight closing times for bars and restaurants from Monday. Venues could also be forced to close at 9pm in case of large crowds. Conte said: “The strategy is not and cannot be the same as in the spring,” when Italy had one of Europe’s highest death rates from COVID-19 while at the same time paying a high economic price due to the lockdown.

Ireland is imposing a six-week lockdown to suppress the spread of COVID-19 in what its leader called “Europe’s strictest regime”. Prime Minister Micheál Martin announced on Monday night (19 October) in a television address to the nation following days of behind-the-scenes discussions with his public health experts.

Brexit

Will the EU and UK still be speaking to each other following last week’s son et lumiere? It would appear so - the UK has officially declared its willingness to hold further talks with the EU, walking back from threatening/announcing it was going to leave the table. “I now believe it is the case that Michel Barnier has agreed both to the intensification of talks and also to working on legal texts,” Michael Gove told British MPs, describing the EU’s move as “constructive” and a “reflection of the strength and resolution” shown by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

And that is all for the start of the week – do stay safe and well, and don’t forget to register for the 1 million Genome Stakeholder Co-ordination conference tomorrow (21 October). Register here and read the full agenda here.

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Update: Co-operation under the microscope in COVID-19 crisis – EAPM EU Presidency Conference report available

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As coronavirus infections soar across the planet, and the death toll rises everywhere, not least in Europe, many are asking why European Union member states were so disconnected from each other strategy-wise, and what the EU can do about improving co-ordination this second time round, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan. 

Well, given that health care is a jealously guarded member state competence, locking-down the answer isn’t easy, and never has been. But that doesn’t help Europe’s citizenry, given that COVID-19 is no respecter of borders and national sovereignty. 

This was one of a myriad discussion items discussed in our recent virtual Presidency Conference entitled ‘Ensuring access to innovation and data-rich biomarker space to speed better quality of care for citizens’. You can read the report here.

As highlighted during the Presidency Conference, there is potential future promise in the European policy context, with the legislative and policy initiatives currently on the EU agenda – most recently – the declaration of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in favour of European Health Union which was discussed during the conference. 

EAPM has always argued for more EU-wide co-operation and coordination in health care, and the current crisis has only made that need more obvious. 

Indeed, for the best part of a decade,  the Alliance has been calling for policies to tackle diseases of many different types - not least cancer - through new science and personalised healthcare, with the backing of many MEPs.

It is apt that throughout the topic-specific discussions of the Presidency Conference, the broader themes that emerged most insistently were collaboration and communication, since these have been the hallmarks of EAPM’s activity since its initiation. 

EAPM is by definition a collaborative exercise, bringing together the broadest range of stakeholders – as this conference again demonstrated. And communication has been at the heart of EAPM’s activity, since its role is not just as a thinktank for refining ideas, but as a vehicle for transmitting those ideas from the world of healthcare to the broader world of policy, where the decisions are made that ultimately shape the way health is delivered. 

Principal recommendations 

Although there was no formal process of agreeing recommendations at the meeting, the following are among the recurring recommendations from the discussions. 

  • Inequalities in access to testing and treatment across Europe must be addressed

  • Adequate data infrastructure and processing capacity must be available.

  • Real-world evidence must be developed and acceptance criteria agreed with regulators, HTA agencies and payers.

  • Greater flexibility in regulatory requirements is needed to accommodate evaluation of products destined for small populations.

  • Multi-stakeholder collaboration must be developed to agree research priorities, standards and quality assurance of testing, and evaluation criteria for testing and treatments.

  • Trust must be developed among citizens about the security and possible  use of their data.

  • Communication must be developed by healthcare stakeholders to persuade policymakers to effect constructive change.  

The link to the report is available here.

1 million genome meeting on 21 October

Registration is still very much open for the B1MG meeting on 21 October. The aim of the the 1 million Genome Project is to support the connection of national genomics and data infrastructures, co-ordinate the harmonization of the ethical and legal framework for sharing data of high privacy sensitivity, and give practical guidance for the pan-European coordination of implementing genomic technologies in national and European health-care systems. 

Thus, the B1MG is a means to bring the different stakeholders together on Oct 21st so as to act as a catalyst to provide a benchmark approach for alignment of complex, fractionated health-care provisions into health-care systems.

Register here and read the full agenda here.

Have the best week possible, and keep safe.

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France reports more than 25,000 new coronavirus infections in past 24 hours

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A doctor, wearing a protective mask and a protective suit, works in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated at the Bethune-Beuvry hospital in Beuvry, France. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

The French health ministry reported 25,086 new confirmed coronavirus cases in 24 hours on Friday (16 October), after reporting a record 30,621 on Thursday (15 October), writes Geert De Clercq in Paris.

It also reported that 122 people had died from coronavirus infection in hospitals in the past 24 hours, compared with 88 on Thursday. Including deaths in retirement homes - which are often reported in multi-day batches - the death toll increased by 178 on Friday.

The total number of infections since the start of the year now stands at 834,770, the cumulative number of dead at 33,303.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 rose by 437 to 10,042, exceeding 10,000 for the first time since mid-June, and the number of people in intensive care rose by 50 to 1,800, a level last seen in mid-May.

In the past seven days, France has registered nearly 14,800 new coronavirus infections, which is more than the 132,430 registered during the entire two-month lockdown from mid-March to mid-May.

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