On 27 and 28 October, EUREGHA attended the sixth edition of the POLITICO Health Care Summit. This year, due to Covid-19, the event was organized in a hybrid form, with a small number of attendees on site and everyone else joining digitally. Through exclusive interviews, panel discussions, and interactive roundtable discussions, this high-level event will gather newsmakers and global thought leaders to dive into European policies on COVID-19, cancer, the Pharma Strategy, health data, and medicine shortages among many other key topics. Given that EUREGHA Director, Valentina Polylas, contributed to the Summit as a speaker this year and EUREGHA was a visibility partner for the event, we were invited to attend in person.

Valentina Polylas took part in a roundtable discussion on the role of regional actors in European health care, representing EUREGHA’s mission, vision, and activities. This article provides a brief summary of the event, and some of the sessions are available on the YouTube channel of POLITICO Europe, which can be visited through the button below this article.

The opening interview on Wednesday 27 October was with EMA Executive Director, Emer Cooke, and touched upon issues such Covid-19 vaccine authorization processes, booster shots, and the use of Real World Data (RWD).

Next, a panel consisting of the Maltese Minister for Health, Chris Fearne, Acting Director of HERA (DG SANTE), Wolfgang Philipp, Janssen EMEA Vaccine Alliance Lead, Bart van Zijll Langhout, and Secretary General of the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME), Annabel Seebohm, discussed whether Europe is ready for the next crisis. Mr. Fearne expressed support for the EU Health Union and praised the successes of joint procurement as an example of what collaboration can achieve. Ms. Seebohm pointed out the need for an EU approach to capacity building and minimum standards not only in terms of materials but also staff, something that Mr. Philipp said HERA could look into. The panel also touched upon Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR), of which Mr. Van Zijll Langhout said it is one of his firm’s top priorities.

After that, EMA’s Head of Vaccine Strategy, Marco Cavaleri, Lilly VP Global Regulatory Affairs, Susan Forda, U.S. FDA Director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Peter Marks, and Global Health Advocates Director, Patrick Bertrand, talked about redefining the speed of innovation. Comparing regulatory processes in the U.S. and Europe, Ms. Forda mentioned the time advantage of the U.S.’s Emergency Use Authorization, while also pointing out the opportunity policy makers now have to incorporate learned lessons into new legislation. Furthermore, she and Mr. Marks agreed that effective communication between industry and policy makers was another reason for the swift innovations during the pandemic. Similarly, Mr. Cavaleri mentioned the intense collaboration between public and private sector and the need for a regulatory framework to solidify this for the future. Mr. Bertrand emphasized a need for transparency on R&D investment processes.

This was followed by a panel discussion on Pharma Strategy with Andrzej Rys, Director Health Systems at DG SANTE, Charlotte Roffiaen, European Policy Advisor at France Assos Santé, and Philippe Drechsle, VP Generics Europe at Teva. They discussed pharma prices and the importance of price transparency, the question of reshoring vs. focusing on the production capacities we already have on EU soil, and prevention and management plans for the future. Mr. Drechsle pointed towards a “race to the bottom” as one of the reasons why current pharmaceutical systems are not sustainable. The system is very complex, said Mr. Rys, and the European Commission is working on a more resilient strategy, referring to a possible policy paper to be published in the upcoming weeks. Ms. Roffiaen pointed out cost transparency as a solution to excessive medicine pricing imbalances and to bring balance to the pharmaceutical system.

At 5pm, Dr. Fauci dialed in from the U.S. for an exclusive interview in which he praised Europe’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as more unified than that of the United States. He also spoke of the moral obligation of high-income countries to ensure low- and middle-income countries receive sufficient doses vaccines, while also ensuring their own people are protected through full vaccinations and possible booster shots.

The day finished with a spotlight discussion on cancer and other non-communicable diseases, featuring John Ryan, Director Public Health at DG SANTE, Rui Medeiros, President of the Association of European Cancer Leagues, Lobna Salem, Regional Chief Medical Officer for Developed Markets at Viatris, and Jennifer Lyn Baker from the European Association for the Study of Obesity. NCDs treatment and prevention have been somewhat neglected as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, with devastating consequences. Mr. Ryan hinted that the Beating Cancer Implementation Plan might be published soon.

We came back the next day for part two, starting at 9am with a discussion on the EU’s vaccine diplomacy, where Helen Rees from the University of Witwatersrand (SA), independent consultant Simon White, Deputy Director-General at DG INPA, Martin Seychell, and Swedish State Secretary for International Development Cooperation, Janine Alm Ericson, shared their thoughts on the lessons learned during the Covid-19 crisis regarding vaccine distribution. In the short term, most of the panelists were not optimistic about equity in vaccine coverage. Mr. Seychell emphasized that the problems are related to scale as well as distribution, estimating that the situation should be much better approximately one year from now.

The Summit proceeded with a panel delving into issues related to Intellectual Property and the question of how to reconcile innovation and health needs. Arjon van Hengel, Deput Head of Unit Health Innovations at DG SANTE, Ellen ‘t Hoen, Director of Medicines Law & Policy, and MEP Tilly Metz (Greens/EFA) discussed market exclusivities, innovation incentives, and more. Ms. Metz stressed the need for transparency, an idea that also enjoyed support from Ms. ‘t Hoen. Mr. Van Hengel pointed out that Europe currently holds a leading position in the pharmaceutical market and is looking to reconcile market and innovation interests with public health, meaning that the necessary products are developed and made accessible at fair prices.

Providing some variety in between panels, next up was an exclusive interview with EC Vice President for Promoting a European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas. With a portfolio as broad as his, the conversation stretched from EU border management, vaccination rates (his message: vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate), and the success of joint procurement during the Covid-19 crisis. When asked if he felt a change to the Treaties might be needed to strengthen EU health policy, he pointed out that all measures taken to date have been enacted within the current framework, suggesting the existing legal bases may be sufficient already.

Following was a panel discussion with Ioana-Maria Gligor from DG SANTE, Estelle Massé from Access Now, Maurizio Cecconi from the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine, and Markus Leyck Dieken, Managing Director at Gematik, talking about how to shape the future of EU health data. Panelists pointed out the importance of data interoperability and difficulties arising from differing implementations of the GDPR in some EU countries. Ms. Gligor said that there is a lot of support among stakeholders for patient control of their own health data. Mr. Cecconi confirmed that in his experience, patients are more than willing to share their health data for the benefit of better clinical outcomes. EUREGHA follows the developments around the European Health Dataspace very closely.

The last panel of the Summit consisted of Mark Lawler from Queen’s University Belfast, MEP Cristian Bușoi (EPP), Janssen VP of Health Economics, Martin Price, and Patient Access Partnership (PACT) Secretary General Stanimir Hasardzhiev, discussing the issue of a two-speed Europe in access to care. Efficient access and use of data was a central theme. Mr. Lawler and Mr. Price both pointed out the need for data-informed decisions in health care (turning data into intelligence), while Mr. Hasardzhiev drew attention to the fact that not all countries have systems in place to collect the necessary data in the first place.

Next up was another interview, this time with the Polish Minister of Health, Adam Niedzielski, touching upon Covid-19 restriction measures, vaccination rates, social attitudes to these issues, data exchange, and the possibility of a Treaty change in the future. Mr. Niedzielski said that because health care systems differ greatly between Member States, he was unsure whether it would be a good idea to give more competences to the EU in the field of health care.

To close off the second day of the Summit, there were two parallel roundtable sessions. EUREGHA Director, Valentina Polylas, participated in the session about the roles of regional actors in European health care, together with Giuseppe Benati, Director of the Department of Primary Care and Community Medicine at AUSL Romagna, Layla McCay, Director of Policy at the NHS Confederation, and Nathalie Berger, Director at DG REFORM. Under Chatham House Rule, the participants talked about how different levels of government can and should work together, and how regional actors can play a big role in prevention and promotion of health and social care.

Unfortunately, the roundtable discussion with Ms. Polylas is not available for re-watching on demand due to technical issues, but some of the other sessions are available on the YouTube Channel of POLITICO Europe.