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Winds of change:
towards new ways of improving public health in Europe

Ljubljana, Slovenia
28 November - 1 December 2018




A fresh take on policy for pharmaceutical research: ensuring access to medical innovation and tackling medical gaps  

Organised by the Federal Ministry of Health and Women’s Affairs, Austria



Introduction: Clemens-Martin Auer, Director General at the Austrian Federal Ministry of Health and Women’s Affairs

Moderator: Josep Figueras, European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies 


Imbalances in the pharmaceutical system

The Council conclusions passed during the 2016 Dutch EU Presidency called for the formation of a framework to strengthen voluntary cooperation between Member States in order to address multiple challenges in the pharmaceutical sector. The Council voiced its concern over “an increasing number of examples of market failures (…), where patients’ access to effective and affordable essential medicines is endangered by very high price levels, market withdrawal of products that are out-of-patent” and “new products (…) not [being] introduced to national markets for business economic strategies”. In other cases, access is impeded due to the fact that research is not or insufficiently conducted in certain medical areas, particularly in those that involve high risk for investment or promise little profit prospects. While in some cases the market fails to capture these problems, it’s often public decision makers and regulators that are unable to tackle the issues by implementing ineffective policies and provide a functioning coordination among the different agents along the pharmaceutical cycles.  

As the Austrian presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2018 is approaching at a fast pace, we intend to build on the work initiated by the recent Trio presidency of the Council to address the difficulties that public health authorities encounter when trying to ensure patients’ access to innovative and high-quality therapies, while at the same time ensure research in areas with therapeutic needs and safeguarding the financial viability and sustainability of the health care system.

Therapeutic needs and public steerage of R&D

A recent OECD estimate shows that subsidies and funding from public sources cover for 30% of the overall R&D expenses in the development of pharmaceuticals – most of the public financial engagement is channeled into basic research, which is one of the more risky and less profitable stages in the development cycle of drugs. There are numerous institutions both at a national and a European level that fund research in the pharmaceutical sector, many of them mostly or wholly financed through public means. Public policy and decision makers often lack knowledge about the landscape of R&D funds barring them from the opportunity to take a more active role in the selection process, which comes as a surprise considering their role as a financier. As a consequence, public authorities fall short when it comes to setting goals and targets in R&D, and hence take little to no ownership over what should be researched in spite of obvious therapeutic and medical needs in different medical areas. 

In order to implement and steer a research agenda that meets patients’ therapeutic needs, closer coordination of funding for R&D shall be enabled and steered to a larger extent by public authorities. As profitability remains the key criterion for the industry in their investment decisions in the current R&D schemes, certain medical areas may be neglected. A more active role in setting research targets could also strengthen the position of public authorities in pricing and reimbursement negotiations. 

Purpose of the Lunch Symposium

The symposium is targeted at policy makers and experts interested in pharmaceutical and research policies. The session should give a first insight into the preparations for the upcoming Austrian presidency of the Council of the European Union. The discussion shall be outcome-oriented, looking at concrete ideas and examples on how to adapt and reform European R&D policy in the area of pharmaceuticals.