The EU was fortunate during the COVID-19 pandemic that several experienced and early-stage vaccine developers exist in Europe, but the bloc got a taste of the challenge of competing with other regions for the finished product when it struggled to procure quantities of the very vaccine its scientists and companies had created.
The soul-searching these events triggered revived a phrase first coined by discerning French officials well before the pandemic: ‘strategic autonomy’. Commissioner for Trade, Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, recently described this as “acting multilaterally wherever and whenever we can but being able to act autonomously if we must”.
The need for Europe to develop strategic autonomy in health goes beyond crisis response and manufacturing supply chains. With an ageing population, increasingly burdened public health systems, and a rise in chronic diseases, the conversation around strategic autonomy should start with ensuring a thriving research and development ecosystem. A robust life sciences community of early-stage, mid-stage and mature companies can provide the continuous stream of homegrown research and development that corresponds to European needs.
Right now, Europe’s life-sciences sector is struggling in comparison to the U.S. and the rest of the world. But the revision of the EU’s pharmaceutical legislation is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help, not hinder, progress towards a strong innovative health care sector that will be an economic driver in the 21st century.
Innovate to elevate
The development of new medical technologies is the building block of an autonomous health care ecosystem. However, figures show that 47 percent of new treatments come out of the U.S., compared to just 25 percent from Europe. A complete reversal of the situation 25 years ago.
Fewer drugs are also being submitted for approval in Europe. Given that EU and U.S. approval agencies come to similar decisions in over 90 percent of cases when a medicine is filed for approval with both, the lower number of approvals sought in the EU should cause alarm in Brussels and member country capitals. EU decision-makers must seek to elevate Europe’s status as a place where medicines can be developed and launched to ensure Europeans receive the health and economic benefits of new medical discoveries.
Turning ideas into reality: the European research ecosystem
Europe is no stranger to life science and biotech research — we produce twice the publication output of the U.S. and apply for a similar number of patents. Yet Europe accounts for just a quarter of global biotech company creations. In other words, we lead the world in ideas but fall behind when the time comes to make those ideas a reality.
One answer as to why these figures are so bleak may lie in the number of…