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A healthier future in the pipeline – how coming medical innovations will bring benefits for patients and societies

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We are in the middle of an unprecedented boom for the research and development of new medicines and health technologies that have the potential to reshape completely healthcare in many areas. This is mainly the result of rapid developments in biology, biotechnology and medicine, the advent of big data and predictive analytics, advances in genomics and patient-tailored treatment solutions, but also increased expenditure on research and development. We are now starting to see the fruits of these developments make their way out of the laboratories to the bedsides of patients.

Some examples:

Cell therapies involve using living cells to replace or repair damaged cells in the human body. Cell therapy could, for example, be used to help patients with Type 1 Diabetes to control their blood-glucose levels, without the constant need to inject insulin, through implanting healthy pancreatic cells.

Gene therapy takes it even further, introducing healthy genes (DNA) to correct or modify abnormal or mutated genes in a patient. Gene therapy therefore holds the promise to treat genetic diseases, such as Haemophilia (a rare blood disorder causing spontaneous haemorrhages).

After many trials and errors, research into Alzheimer’s disease is finally making progress in developing disease-modifying therapies that might actually slow down the progression of the disease, rather than just temporarily alleviating some of the symptoms as is the case today.

Treatment of cancer is making rapid advancements through using different therapies in combination, thereby increasing the effectiveness and/or durability of the treatment. For example, targeted therapies that attack tumour cells can be combined with immunotherapies that reactivate the patient’s own immune system against the cancer.

The threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, today seen as one of the major health threats facing the world, could be alleviated partially using new “Antibacterial Monoclonal Antibodies”. These therapies have a more specific mechanism of action than normal antibiotics and are therefore are less likely to lead to bacteria developing resistance against the treatment.

These innovative therapies have the potential to change dramatically the outlook for many patients and their families in Europe, and to bring value to European healthcare systems and societies. Combination therapies could increase life expectancy for some cancer patients, and increase the quality of life when toxic chemotherapy is replaced by modern treatments. Cell therapies for diabetes could reduce the burden on patients in terms of managing their disease, and decrease the risk of severe complications, such as loss of eyesight and amputations. Fewer complications would also mean big savings for healthcare systems through less need for hospitalisation and rehabilitation. Better treatments for Alzheimer’s would not only give patients a higher quality of life, but would also decrease the burden on families, informal carers, and social care systems. Gene therapies could increase the quality of life for haemophilia patients, reduce the risk of complications, and save money through reduced hospitalisation and the consumption of drugs used currently to prevent bleeding. Antibacterial Monoclonal Antibodies could save the lives of patients infected with multi-drug resistant bacteria, and reduce hospital-acquired infections, thereby reducing the risk and associated cost of surgery.

Looking at this exciting wave of medical innovation, the future seems promising for patients all over Europe. However, there are several potential hurdles that could slow the adoption of new innovation into our healthcare systems, including old or outdated healthcare infrastructure, clinical practices, models for assessing the value of new drugs and payment practices. How do we make sure that these innovations actually reach the patients that need them, once they are ready for wider use?

  • Some new therapies will change they way healthcare is delivered, and this therefore requires changes to the organisation of care. New Alzheimer’s therapies would require diagnosis and treatment at a much earlier stage than usually occurs today – how do we identify the right patients at the right time?
  • Cell and gene therapies might replace a continuous or even life-long treatment with one single intervention using very high-tech and high-cost health technology – how can we change both healthcare delivery and financing models to deal with that?
  • Therapies for small patient populations – such as orphan drugs and gene therapies – often come with less data on their effectiveness, due to the difficulty of conducting large-scale clinical trials – how can we build systems for collecting and monitoring the health outcomes for patients in real life for use in value-assessments and improving clinical practice?
  • When cancer drugs are used in combination – how do we assess the value of each component for pricing and reimbursement, and how do health systems pay for the combination of two or several already high-cost treatments?
  • Antibacterial antibodies and other innovative antibiotics that work against multi-resistant bacteria should be reserved for cases where there are no other options. How can you build a model that rewards the innovation of a drug that is seldom used?

There are answers to all these questions, and they all begin with planning and joint collaboration. Healthcare policymakers, authorities, clinicians, patients and the industry must work together to look at the medical innovations that will become reality in the coming years, and try to assess their potential benefit and impact. Healthcare systems are in a constant state of change, but change often takes time and it is therefore necessary to start the dialogue long before new treatments are ready for wider use in clinics and hospitals all over Europe. The industry is ready to help policymakers and healthcare planners with this forward-looking planning, starting with providing information about the medicines currently under development. For their part, policymakers should communicate their health policy priorities and determine where resources should be focused to address unmet health needs. It is time to leave the silos, and start working together to deliver a healthier future for Europe’s patients.

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