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Denis Horgan

BELGIUM

 

Executive Director Denis Horgan of the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) shares his insights into the role of Personalised Medicines in future healthcare.

What does personalised medicine mean for policymakers here in Brussels?

Europe has an aging population and it is inevitable that everyone will become ill at some time – perhaps with more than one disease. The cost of healthcare will inevitably rise in every Member State and the EU needs to help to cushion the blow. Genetic-based personalised medicine is one way to do this as individual, more effective treatment will help to keep patients out of expensive hospital beds as well as possibly allowing them to keep working – thus adding to Europe’s wealth rather than drawing from it. In other cases it will provide a better quality of life for patients.

The implications are clear: policy- and law-makers here in Brussels (and in individual Member States) need to facilitate the introduction of personalised medicine through suitably flexible regulations and processes that take into account this fast-moving science. Although Member States have competence for their own healthcare systems, there is enshrined in the EU treaties a duty to work for the benefit of the 500 million potential patients across the Union.

Personalised medicine takes us away from the one-size-fits-all patient model. Are health systems set up to help bring these benefits to life for patients today? What else is needed to ensure the success of personalised medicines and further improve health systems’ readiness for it?

Health systems (and front-line healthcare professionals) tend to treat by population, rather than by individual – a kind of percentage game. This clearly does not work and is both unnecessarily costly and detrimental to many patients for whom the drug or treatment is inappropriate.

Health systems - and, thus Member State governments - need to take on board personalised medicine at every level, yet this is clearly not happening (with the possible exception of treating cancers). But this cannot be done without a shift in mindset. Payers need a new idea of what really constitutes ‘value’ – it is not merely cost – and healthcare workers (plus patients) need to be trained to understand the implications of these new sciences and its potential use for the patients in front of them.

 

EAPM recently held its fourth annual Presidency conference. As you look back over the past year, what have been the milestones for the Alliance?

Aside from three highly successful Presidency conferences (September 2014, May 2015 & April of this year), EAPM has been a major driver of the fact that the concept of personalised medicine has become much more widely accepted, not only among health-arena stakeholders but also at the political level. From the Alliance point of view, the organisation has seen a growth in influence, membership and interest, which reflects and augments the previous point.

The past year has also seen the setting up of the STEPs Interest Group of MEPs (Members of the European Parliament), which takes EAPM’s members’ concerns, and their messages, directly into the European Parliament.

The EAPM Forum, meanwhile, brings all stakeholders together every 2-3 months to review activity and to direct political strategy. Working Groups develop positions on key topics and make proposals and recommendations.

EAPM’s fourth annual conference, under the auspices of the Presidency of The Netherlands in Spring 2016, came under the broad banner of ‘Taking Stock’. This is based on the fact that EAPM is in a prime position to look back and assess – in a realistic manner and through direct contact with its members and stakeholders at every level – just how far the dream of realising the potential of personalised medicine has come since EAPM was founded. This allowed the Alliance to focus directly on the vital next steps.  This built on the EU Conclusions on Personalised Medicine which EAPM contributed to its development during the Luxembourg Presidency of the EU of December 2015.

I am proud to say that the Alliance has essentially created a ‘safe harbour’ space in which different stakeholders can act, discuss vital issues, develop consensus and advocate different positions. Such a space did not exist prior to its setting up.