Training vital for new era of patient-centric health care

big-data-healthcareBy European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan

“Health-care professionals cannot be expected to adapt to new ways of approaching patients and coping with new technology unless they are suitably trained”, a high-level conference on personalised medicine heard in Brussels this week. 
Delegates were told that it is vital to develop training for professionals whose disciplines are essential to the successful development of personalised medicine to promote the shared understanding and collaborative development of necessary tools.  “To this end, employers, professional organizations, certification entities, regulatory agencies, and others will have to be involved in effecting the necessary changes,” the conference heard.
Christine Chomienne, president of the European Hematology Association (EHA), was speaking at the third annual conference of the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) – a Brussels-based organization that brings together stakeholders from academia, through research, to industry, policy makers and patient groups.
Chomienne added: “Curricula should be transparent, and transferable between countries. This should be true for healthcare professionals, but also – if the necessary interdisciplinary approach is to be achieved – for other professions whose contributions and collaboration will be increasingly necessary as personalised medicine develops.” The conference was also addressed by Luxembourg’s Minister for Health, Latvia’s Secretary of State for Health, several cross-party Members of the European Parliament, and representatives from relevant European Commission DGs.
It was held under the auspices of Latvia’s rotating presidency of the EU and the Alliance told attendees it had been working closely with both that nation and Luxembourg.  The latter has a large health agenda for its own rotating presidency, which begins on the first of July, and will hold a high-level conference the 8th of that month, with the title ‘Making Access to Personalised Medicine a Reality for Patients’.
The conference called for the “need to create a European Translational Research Platform, or ETRP, to enable the efficient translation of research discoveries to innovative diagnostics, therapeutics, products and processes that will benefit European patients, industries and societies”. This ETRP should, among other goals, aim to link infrastructure in relevant domains including ‘omics, pathology, biorepositories/biobanks, Big Data, biomarkers, diagnostics, imaging, drug discovery and development while sharing the expertise across the translational research continuum.  The ultimate aim would be to effectively deliver translational solutions that will contribute to better health for Europe’s 500 million citizens across 28 Member States.
The conference also heard that many people present would have preferred that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had put more of a focus on health and personalised medicine when setting out his list of priorities for this term.   ”It is clear,” said EAPM co-chair Helmut Brand, “that with an aging population Europe needs to take urgent action in the area of health. Nobody says it will be easy but, while consensus is not always possible, we definitely need to have a coalition of the willing.
 ”The EU,” he added, “needs to provide a framework that can allow us to go beyond simply words and aspirations and dreams, to allow us to provide real outcomes in order that citizens, businesses, healthcare workers and patients do not get frustrated. “It is abundantly clear that integrating personalised medicine into healthcare systems faces myriad problems, and of course we want to solve them. But science will not stop while we struggle to get things absolutely right, diseases won’t disappear while we tarry and patients will not receive the best care available while we wait,” Brand added. Personalised medicine has the goal of giving the right treatment to the right patient at the right time, and has come markedly to the fore in recent times.
The issues surrounding this new way of treating patients are helping to set the agenda in this sphere.  This includes great leaps in genetics, ground-breaking research, the emergence of Big Data and the super-computers needed to process it, as well as the restructuring of clinical trial models, up-to-date legislation and a new willingness for all stakeholders to leave their professional silos and collaborate like never before.  EAPM’s aim is to improve patient care by accelerating the development, delivery and uptake of personalised medicine and diagnostics, through consensus, and to emphasise the need for a wider understanding of priorities and a more integrated approach.
During the conference, the Alliance announced that it will soon be embarking upon a Member State outreach programme, “to continue vital, one-on-one engagement with our colleagues in the Commission and in the Parliament, but also have a foothold in the wider Europe”.
Among other speakers at the two-day congress (2-3 June) were – Miriam Gargesi, EuropaBio Healthcare Director, Mark Lawler, the Chair in Translational Cancer Genomics at Queen’s University Belfast, Wolfgang Ballensiefen, Coordinator at the German Aerospace Center, Núria Malats, from the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas, Daniel Schneider, of Genomic Health, Lester Russell, the senior director of Health & Life Sciences Innovation EMEA at Intel Corporation, and Jillian Odenkirk, a senior analyst from the OECD.
Also addressing the 160-strong audience were Ernst Hafen, of ETH Zurich, Nicola Bedlington, from the European Patient Forum, Angela Brand, the founding director and full professor of the Institute for Public Health Genomics at Maastricht University, and  EAPM co-chair and former European Commissioner for Health, David Byrne.
Meanwhile, at a speakers’ dinner on Tuesday (2 June), guests heard from Fernand Sauer who, while now a member of the French Academy of Pharmacy, retired from the European Commission in 2006 as an Honorary Director General and continues to advise European institutions and agencies on health matters, pharmaceutical policy and research.  Given his long and distinguished career, Sauer was introduced to warm applause by Brand as ‘Europe’s Mister Health’.

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