Good afternoon, health colleagues, and welcome to the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update – there is much to discuss, on beating inequalities in cancer treatment, clinical data transparency and, importantly, planning for summer holidays writes EAPM Executive Director Dr. Denis Horgan.
Commissioner says EU cancer plan must ‘break the silence’ on women’s cancers
There is a large inequality of access to women’s cancer services and treatments across the EU, according to the bloc’s health chief, who highlighted the role of Europe’s Beating Cancer plan in bridging these disparities. Speaking during a webinar, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said there is a need to “break the silence” and talk openly about gynaecological cancers.
The EU, she added, has “to assure that all women in all corners of the EU, get the support, have access to the screening and the vaccination, the information and the multidisciplinary care that they should be having”.
Her hopes are on Europe’s beating cancer plan, which must bring “real change”. “This is what European citizens expect from us. And I also believe that we don’t have a right to fail them. We have an opportunity and we need to seize it,” Kyriakides said. Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan was set in 2020 to tackle the entire disease pathway, from prevention to treatment, with the goal to equalise access to high-quality care, diagnosis and treatment across the bloc.
About 40% of cancer cases are preventable through effective cancer prevention strategies. The commissioner added that the EU cancer plan “aims to offer breast cancer screening to 90% of people who qualify for it by 2025”.
EMA chief sceptical about waiving patents as answer to vaccine inequity
The head of the European Medicines Agency expressed scepticism that waiving patents on coronavirus vaccines will bring about equitable access, saying that instead the answer was increasing distribution and availability.
In an interview with several national European newspapers, EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said that she firmly believes in “equitable access to vaccines and that nobody is safe until we are all safe,” when asked about the U.S. proposal for a vaccine patent waiver.
“For me, however, the way to solve this problem at the moment is to increase the distribution and availability of vaccines,” she said, pointing to a significant number of doses set to be available over the next several months.
Cooke said that the focus should be on “enabling innovation.” “None of our existing vaccines would have come about if there hadn’t been an environment that made innovation attractive,” she said.
Despite this, Cooke conceded that in the “long term” the debate on patent protection should be carried out.
More action on rare diseases
Any disease affecting fewer than five people in 10,000 in the EU is considered rare. Although this might appear small, it translates into approximately 246,000 people. Most patients suffer from even rarer diseases affecting 1 person in 100,000 or more. Approximately 5,000-8,000 distinct rare diseases affect 6-8% of the EU population i.e. between 27 and 36 million people.
Public Health Policy Director Anna Kole has said that the successful launch of Europe’s Beating Cancer plan had provided inspiration for the idea of creating a dedicated action plan for rare diseases.
Meanwhile, the Commission is moving on several different fronts to improve rare disease treatment in the EU. An impact assessment evaluating proposals to change EU regulations for medicines for rare diseases and for children is expected to run until the first quarter of next year. That will open the door to new legislative changes. And creation of a European health data space will allow pooling data from rare disease patients across different member countries.
Kole said that an action plan would allow better coordination across the disparate fields that the Commission is acting on, as well as the introduction of new flagship initiatives.
“If there’s one disease area where EU added value can’t be more clearly demonstrated, it’s rare diseases,” said Kole, who pointed to the benefits of allowing patients to move across borders for specialist treatment, or for facilitating data sharing throughout the bloc, as examples.
The EU supports research into rare diseases through Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever, with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020). Close to €900 million, is available to more than 160 collaborative projects related to rare diseases.
Rich-poor vaccine inequity
The disparity in access to COVID-19 vaccines between rich and low-income countries has become impossible to ignore; according to UNICEF data, 86% of all doses given worldwide up to 30 March were administered to those in high- and upper-middle-income countries, while just 1% of jabs have been given to those in the world’s poorest.
Low-risk groups in the UK, US and Israel are becoming eligible for jabs, while vulnerable populations elsewhere remain at risk of contracting the virus. The hoarding of vaccines by wealthy countries, as the pandemic ravages economically disadvantaged nations, has brought the issue of vaccine patents to the fore.
Biotechnology Innovation Organization wrote in the Economist that the proposal “undermines the very system that produced the life-saving science in the first place”, and “destroys the incentive for companies to take risks to find solutions for the next health emergency”.
Regulators and WHO call for clinical data transparency
World regulatory authorities are calling for increased transparency from the pharmaceutical industry in how they report and give access to clinical trial data. In a joint statement, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) cited need for “wide access to clinical data for all new medicines and vaccines”.
Data related to a therapy or vaccine “must be published at the time of finalization of the regulatory review,” they said, regardless of whether the decision is positive or negative. “It cannot be justified to keep confidential efficacy and safety data of a medicine available on the market, or which has been refused access to the market.”
The two bodies cited “overriding public health interest” in their statement, which called for pharmaceutical companies to report clinical trial results without redacting information that would otherwise be confidential because of commercial reasons. Only personally identifying information and individual patient data should be redacted from publicly available clinical trial data, wrote WHO and ICMRA.
People can ‘start thinking about Europe summer travel’
People can start thinking about summer holidays in Europe on condition of being vaccinated, the EU has said, as its planned digital travel 'health pass' is on track for use from mid-June. The plan is that a European-wide health pass will be launched at the same time across the EU, and countries that do not have the resources to put it in place will be supported by the Commission, to avoid delays. Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “I seriously believe that we can start thinking about [summer travel], probably like last year in Europe. “It will be important to open the continent gradually, and to be able to go on holiday. Everyone must go to get vaccinated. As soon as you are called, go to get vaccinated.”
Commission publishes open public consultation on the European Health Data Space
The Commission has published an open public consultation on the European Health Data Space (EHDS) - an important building block of the European Health Union. The EHDS aims to make full use of digital health to provide high-quality healthcare and reduce inequalities. It will promote access to health data for prevention, diagnosis and treatment, research and innovation, as well as for policy-making and legislation. The EHDS will place individuals' rights to control their own personal health data at its core.
The consultation will remain open for responses until 26 July 2021. Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: ″The European Health Data Space will be a crucial component of a strong European Health Union. It will enable EU-wide collaboration for better healthcare, better research and better health policy-making. I invite all interested citizens and stakeholders to take part in the consultation and help us leverage the power of data for our health. This will have to rest on a strong foundation of non-negotiable citizens' rights, including privacy and data protection.″
And that is everything from EAPM for now – stay safe, stay well, have a terrific weekend, see you next week.
Germany’s Merkel urges pragmatic approach to Northern Ireland
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured) called on Saturday for a “pragmatic solution” to disagreements over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, Reuters Read more.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, threatening emergency measures if no solution was found.
The EU has to defend its common market, Merkel said, but on technical questions there could be a way forward in the dispute, she told a news conference during a Group of Seven leaders' summit.
"I have said that I favour a pragmatic solution for contractual agreements, because a cordial relationship is of utmost significance for Britain and the European Union," she said.
Referring to a conversation she had with U.S. President Joe Biden about geopolitical issues, Merkel said they agreed that Ukraine must continue to remain a transit country for Russian natural gas once Moscow completes the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.
The $11 billion pipeline will carry gas to Germany directly, something Washington fears could undermine Ukraine and increase Russia's influence over Europe.
Biden and Merkel are due to meet in Washington on July 15, and the strain on bilateral ties caused by the project will be on the agenda.
The G7 sought on Saturday to counter China's growing influence by offering developing nations an infrastructure plan that would rival President Xi Jinping's multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative. L5N2NU045
Asked about the plan, Merkel said the G7 was not yet ready to specify how much financing could be made available.
“Our financing instruments often are not as quickly available as developing countries need them,” she said
'Whatever it takes', UK's Johnson warns EU over post-Brexit trade
Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday (12 June), threatening emergency measures if no solution was found, write Elizabeth Piper and Michel Rose.
The threat by Johnson seemed to break a temporary truce in a war of words over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, the focus for tensions since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year.
Despite US President Joe Biden encouraging them to find a compromise, Johnson used a G7 summit to indicate no softening in his position on what is called the Northern Ireland protocol that covers border issues with the British province.
"I think we can sort it out but ... it is up to our EU friends and partners to understand that we will do whatever it takes," Johnson told Sky News.
"I think if the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16," he added, referring to a safeguard clause that allows either side to take measures if they believe the agreement is leading to economic, societal or environment difficulties.
"I've talked to some of our friends here today, who do seem to misunderstand that the UK is a single country, a single territory. I just need to get that into their heads."
His comments came after he met French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel at a Group of Seven summit in southwestern England.
The EU told the British government once again that it must implement the Brexit deal in full and introduce checks on certain goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland. Britain repeated its call for urgent and innovative solutions to ease the friction.
The province has an open border with EU member Ireland so the Northern Ireland protocol was agreed as a way to preserve the bloc's single market after Britain left.
The protocol essentially kept the province in the EU’s customs union and adhering to many of the single market rules, creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea between the British province and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Since Britain exited the bloc's orbit, Johnson has unilaterally delayed the implementation of some provisions of the protocol, including checks on chilled meats such as sausages moving from the mainland to Northern Ireland, saying it was causing disruption to some supplies to the province.
"Both sides must implement what we agreed on," von der Leyen, European Commission president, said after meeting Johnson alongside Michel, the European Council president.
"There is complete EU unity on this," she said, adding that the deal had been agreed, signed and ratified by both Johnson's government and the bloc.
Germany's Merkel said the two sides could find pragmatic solutions on technical questions, while the EU protected its single market.
Earlier this week, talks between the two sets of negotiators ended in an exchange of threats over the so-called "sausage wars". An EU official said at the G7 that there was a need for the rhetoric to be toned down.
The head of the World Trade Organization said she hoped the tensions would not escalate into a trade war.
The United States has also expressed grave concern the dispute could undermine the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.
That agreement largely brought an end to the "Troubles" - three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.
Though Brexit was not part of the formal agenda for the G7 summit in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay, it has more than once threatened to cloud the meeting.
France's Macron offered to reset relations with Britain as long as Johnson stood by the Brexit deal - a characterisation of the meeting that was rejected by the British team. Read more.
Brexit has also strained the situation in Northern Ireland, where the pro-British "unionist" community say they are now split off from the rest of the United Kingdom and the Brexit deal breaches the 1998 peace deal. But the open border between the province and Ireland was a key principle of the Good Friday deal.
Keeping the UEFA EURO 2020 championship safe
Between 10 June and 12 July 2021, Europol will host an operational centre to support safety and security during the UEFA EURO 2020 football championship. Coordinated by the Dutch Police, the International Police Cooperation Centre (IPCC) of the National Football Contact Points will host about 40 liaison officers from 22 participating and hosting countries. This special operational set-up is created to enable swift cooperation and provide the necessary operational support for a safe and secure championship.
The IPCC will serve as a central information hub for national law enforcement authorities. To that end, Europol has created a special Task Force EURO 2020 to enable keeping officers on the ground 24/7 to easily exchange information and swiftly receive leads on ongoing investigations. The operational activities will focus on public safety and criminal threats, which may threaten security during the tournament. Enforcement authorities will target threats such as cybercrime, terrorism, match-fixing, trafficking counterfeit goods including fake COVID-19 certificates, and other intellectual property crimes.
Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle, said: ‘The UEFA EURO 2020 championship is a unique tournament both for football and for law enforcement. With 24 national teams playing in 11 cities across Europe, teaming up is paramount for the safety of the tournament. Europol will enable this cooperation by hosting the dedicated operational centre. Backed by Europol’s capabilities, officers on the ground will be better prepared to ensure a smooth and safe championship.’
The IPCC’s chief of staff, Max Daniel, said: ‘Combining information about public order issues, supporters, places of stay and travel movements by road, air and rail results in an up-to-date and integrated picture. Being able to easily share that information between countries has proven to be very valuable in the past. Police intelligence officers of all participating countries are doing their utmost to ensure that this unique UEFA EURO 2020 championship will be as safe as possible.’
IPCC UEFA EURO 2020 Participants (total number):
EU Member States: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands.
Non-EU Countries: Azerbaijan, North Macedonia, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom.
Organisations: INTERPOL and UEFA
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