Representatives of Belgian associations for innovative pharma, generics and biosimilars, medtech, OTC, biotech, hospitals, and medical professionals share their key agenda priorities. These include where they feel that change is needed to drive better outcomes for their members as well as for the overall healthcare ecosystem.
Innovative Pharma: Building Trust via Dialogue
For pharma.be’s Caroline Ven, open dialogue with stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem as to the value and benefits that innovative pharma brings is much needed. “pharma.be is attempting to engage in more open dialogue with all stakeholders and to explain both our mission and business model,” she asserts.
There remains a need to build trust via dialogue about our role in the health system
Caroline Ven, pharma.be
“We need indeed intellectual property (IP) protection, for instance, to make sure that the incentive to invest in a very risky business over a long period of time prior to a positive outcome remains. When we are criticised on this point, I point to the fact that no other actors within the health system are stepping up and doing this; it requires long-term shareholders as it is a long and expensive process with no guarantee of success. Unlike playing up pharma’s economic benefits – which is more straightforward and easier to understand – there remains a need to build trust via dialogue about our role in the health system”
Generics & Biosimilars: In Search of a Future-Proof Model
In the generics and biosimilars space, Jasmien Coenen of Medaxes feels that a more robust marketplace for her member companies to operate would render the Belgian healthcare system more sustainable. “Our association’s main focus is to shift the narrative and emphasize the importance of future-proofing the off-patent sector,” says Coenen.
While we recognize the importance of innovation, we also highlight the potential consequences of solely focusing on innovation at the expense of access to basic medicines
“While we recognize the importance of innovation, we also highlight the potential consequences of solely focusing on innovation at the expense of access to basic medicines. This is the message we aim to convey to everyone. Fortunately, we see initiatives emerging that align with our perspective. The recent royal decree on tendering in hospitals, for example, reflects a desire for a competitive marketplace and acknowledges the need for competition to ensure sustainability. We are pleased that our message is being understood, but still, major improvements can be made to render the market sustainable and competitive for generic and biosimilar medicines.”
OTC: A Bigger Role for Consumer Healthcare
Consumer healthcare has a bigger role to place in Belgian healthcare says Marc Gryseels of over-the-counter medicine (OTC) association BACHI. Half of all boxes sold in Belgian dispensaries are OTC products and Gryseels feels that even more medicines should be switched from prescription to OTC.
Changing indications to OTC will allow everyone to access the products and help improve self-care, while also freeing up funds for new drugs
“A big opportunity is to transition some of the currently reimbursed products to OTC medicines,” he begins. “We need to reconsider which products should be reimbursed and which ones should require a prescription. Our focus should be on the process of switching products from prescription to OTC, which currently has a negative connotation. We need to improve this process by changing indications, not ingredients, so that we do not disrupt the balance between products in the market. If we can identify a pathology that allows for self-medication and products that are safe enough for OTC sale, then we should switch it from prescription to OTC. We should not continue to reimburse basic self-care treatments, which can be costly. Changing indications to OTC will allow everyone to access the products and help improve self-care, while also freeing up funds for new drugs. We could when necessary, maintain a negative list of products that should remain on prescription due to safety concerns within that indication.”
Medtech: Towards Value
More needs to be done in terms of value- and outcome-based healthcare, according to Marnix Denys of beMedTech, the association representing the medical devices industry in Belgium. However, Denys warns that such a transformation will not happen overnight.
Currently, the healthcare financing system in Belgium does not incentivize healthcare professionals or institutions based on outcomes or results
“The shift towards value-based healthcare is a complex process,” he outlines. “Currently, the healthcare financing system in Belgium does not incentivize healthcare professionals or institutions based on outcomes or results. Instead, they are paid for activities and treatments. This traditional financing model creates a bias and may hinder the adoption of alternative patient pathways that could be more efficient and value-based, such as telemonitoring and homecare.
“The decision-making process for allocating healthcare budgets in Belgium has historically focused on distributing funds among different players, rather than maximizing the health potential of the population within the given budget. To move towards a more sustainable healthcare system, a shift towards value-based healthcare is needed, where the emphasis is on achieving better health outcomes for patients.
Biotech: Ready for Investment
The Dutch-speaking region of Flanders has long been a hotbed of biotech excellence, with numerous examples of university spin-offs being translated into commercial-stage companies and many of those later acquired by Big Pharma. These include rare disease-focused Ablynx, acquired by Sanofi in 2018; Argenx, one of Europe’s most successful biotech companies; Galapagos, which is now entering the CAR-T space; and Oxurion (formerly ThromboGenics), which brought a first-in-class retina therapy from bench to market in Europe and the US.
Our biotech talent is not afraid of being scrutinised on science and data
Wouter Piepers of flanders.bio urges biotech investors “not to sleep on Flanders and Belgium as the best is yet to come.” He adds, “Many new therapeutics and technologies have already emerged from our region, and many more are set to come online in the coming years, across a range of different disease areas.”
“The Flanders and Belgium biotech scene is also not afraid to engage in the new model of precision financing, and our biotech talent is not afraid of being scrutinised on science and data, or on the quality of its people. On the contrary, I have always witnessed an attitude of wanting to do better. I can see many of our members that are therefore perfectly aligned with the new normal in funding. We are open for business.”
Hospitals: Time for Change
The hospitals sector in Belgium is facing the triple threat of an aging society with increased healthcare demands, a drop in its attractiveness as a work environment causing many professionals to leave, and several financing issues. For Karel van de Sompel, a 35-year Pfizer veteran who now leads GIBBIS – the pluralistic federation of the public and private social-profit healthcare sector within the Brussels area – the time is nigh for change.
Our society is changing and will continue to change and advocating for the status quo is not going to help us
“It is time to act and realise the critical importance of the healthcare sector both from a medical and an economic perspective,” he proclaims. “We need to continue to invest and leave space for innovation. It is also time to value, more than ever, the incredible work of care personnel, people who work day in and day out, and make sure we have enough of a workforce. We need to make that job attractive again so that people will join us.”
“As a sector, let us be open to continuous change. Our society is changing and will continue to change and advocating for the status quo is not going to help us. I know budgets are limited, but that should inspire us, even more, to do the right thing because we owe it to the patients who are waiting for new treatments.”
Medical Professionals: Pharma Specialisation
Healixia is a three-year old association which brings together medical professionals from across the Belgian healthcare and life sciences ecosystem. For the organisation’s president, Erik Present, creating educational pathways for its members to specialise in and engage more with pharmaceuticals is a key agenda priority.
Belgian physicians that want to actively engage with the pharma industry or in clinical development currently lack a clear educational track
“One area where Healixia is particularly active, which is specific to Belgium, is supporting the recognition of pharmaceutical medicine or clinical pharmacology as a speciality for physicians,” he explains.
“Belgian physicians that want to actively engage with the pharma industry or in clinical development currently lack a clear educational track, Healixia is attempting to bring the right stakeholders together on this topic. Estimations show that around 400 to 450 Belgian physicians are active in companies, academia, or authorities around the life cycle of a drug or device.”