It's difficult to open an email or an envelope in Brussels these days without yet another agenda falling out of it, carrying
the promise of a new start. With a new European Parliament installed, a new European Commission president appointed and a
new Commission on the way, and guarded optimism that the worst of the recession is over, this outpouring of recommendations
and recipes is hardly surprising. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
The trend is reflected in the medicines sector, with a plethora of manifestos and strategy proposals from industry, regulators,
and campaigning organizations. One of the most grandiose is the self-styled "groundbreaking vision towards a life sciences
strategy for Europe," launched in high summer by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations.
This "landmark paper" claims to provide steps towards "an integrated strategy" for the sector in Europe. "With Europe now
emerging from the crisis, there is an opportunity to improve health prospects of citizens, while promoting economic growth.
As new European leaders and policymakers across the political spectrum begin work to improve Europe's future, EFPIA calls
for greater political collaboration," the industry association specifies.
Into the fire
It is reasonable to expect that new European leaders and policymakers will begin work to improve Europe's future. But given
the notorious absence of political collaboration in European health affairs, it is imprudent to assume that all that work
will improve the situation for the drug industry. Given the fundamental nature of the challenges that Europe is facing, what
emerges may actually be worse than the current imperfect context for medicines. EFPIA and other industry advocates of radical
change run the risk of jumping out of the frying pan only to find themselves in the fire.
The essence of the EFPIA call to arms is a plea for "a new generation of partnerships and collaborative solutions to address
the EU's growing health and competitiveness challenges." It urges changes in perception, more "thinking outside the box,"
better understanding of future demands and of the value of investment, and the "need to address the system as a whole" in
order to create sustainable systems. Of course the central refrain of the vision is "ensuring that the pharmaceutical and
life sciences industries—jewels in Europe's economy—continue to thrive." Consequently, much of the content is devoted to the
need for the industry to be "highly competitive" and for "innovation-led growth." The merits of the industry—in terms of those
familiar claims relating to products, jobs, exports, or research commitment—occupy much of this manifesto.
So, too, does the catalogue of the economic problems the industry faces. EFPIA warns against "making it difficult to obtain
innovative medicines, increasing user charges, or delisting services from the benefits catalogue." It complains about the
distortion that international reference pricing creates in the European market for medicines—going so far as to call for an
urgent review of "the practical operation of the free movement of goods principle in medicines." It blames "the current patchwork
of valuation and assessment criteria across Europe" for being "arbitrary and politicized," and "leading to wasteful and costly
duplication of effort." And it cautions that "arbitrary financial policies" are inhibiting investment in research.