In conversation with PharmaBoardroom Christoph Stoller and Adrian Van den Hoven of Medicines for Europe, the association representing the European generics, biosimilar and value-added-medicines industry, highlighted their members’ rapid response to the COVID-19 crisis and why Europe-wide reform is needed to avoid future medicine shortages and strengthen the supply chain.
Stoller, the association’s president as well as general manager for Teva in Austria and Germany, was keen to contrast the fast and effective response that his industry displayed at the outbreak of the pandemic with the hesitation and panic of European national governments and the EU.
We are not asking for anything new, but the COVID crisis has clearly shown that we cannot go on with the current way that our systems are organised
Christoph Stoller, president, Medicines for Europe
“We as an industry had contingency plans ready and went immediately into crisis mode to ensure that supply was maintained,” he noted. “That worked very well thanks to the fact that we were well prepared and had active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and other key materials in stock.”
“However, governments also need to be well prepared for pandemics. At the beginning of the crisis, there was a somewhat chaotic rush for personal protective equipment (PPE) and intensive care unit (ICU) drugs exacerbated by border closures. Thankfully, EC intervention has improved that.”
Not wanting to see a repeat of this situation, Stoller asked, “looking forward, how are we going to ensure these shortages do not happen again and who should pay for it?” He proclaims, “There needs to be a sustainable system to ensure the reliable supply of medicines in Europe. One way to do this is to engage in a dialogue with national government to secure necessary stock in every area, including hospitals, of key drugs. During the crisis, nobody had visibility on where these goods were on either a country or European level; that is something that we need to improve. Countries should use this time after the peak of the crisis to set up these systems.”
“Secondly, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and EMA need to obtain better epidemiological data to ascertain the need for essential drugs in different areas.”
Stoller concludes, “Finally, we need to change the way that our systems work. Certain European countries cannot continue to maintain an unsustainable preference for the lowest-cost generic option. For example, there needs to be a move away from tenders run on price alone to begin to include other criteria such as supply security. This needs financial commitments from the member states to ensure equitable and sustainable access at all times.”
By working more closely with our industry, the EU can achieve the objectives of access equity, shortage avoidance, and more manufacturing jobs in Europe
Adrian van den Hoven, director general, Medicines for Europe
“We are not asking for anything new, but the COVID crisis has clearly shown that we cannot go on with the current way that our systems are organised. We need to reform our tender systems, implement sustainable pricing, and revamp the regulatory framework to be more cost-effective and digitalised.”
Expanding on how these changes can be effectively put in place, Medicines for Europe Director General Adrian van den Hoven noted that “Changes to pharmaceutical policy can be either beneficial or harmful, depending on how they are implemented. We share a lot of big-picture views with the EC but in the past, we have struggled in terms of practical planning, implementation, and follow up. During the COVID crisis, the close cooperation and dialogue we have had with the EC has been rather successful, solving a lot of problems and avoiding patient shortages.”
He added, “We think going forward that all these changes, proposals and new policies should be discussed in a similar manner because implementation, setting clear plans, and achieving goals is an EU weak point. By working more closely with our industry, the EU can achieve the objectives of access equity, shortage avoidance, and more manufacturing jobs in Europe.”