Sweden takes the reins

Aug 25, 2009

Sweden is showing it means business with its current presidency of the EU — and raising hopes among European pharmaceutical executives of some effective action between now and December. Health had already been allocated a prominent place on Sweden's agenda when it took over the rotating six-month presidency of the EU at the start of July.

But hopes have risen further with the news that Diana DeGette has been attracted to address the Swedish-American Life Science Summit (SALSS) in Stockholm in August.

DeGette, Democrat Representative for Colorado, US, is a top Obama advisor on healthcare reform, with a strongly pro-technology profile. Notably, she was co-sponsor of the pioneering Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act in 2007 — the legislation twice vetoed by George Bush — and author of Sex, Science, and Stem Cells: Inside the Right Wing Assault on Reason, a no-holds-barred expose of the how right-wing America has politicised sex, science and reproductive health.

She will be setting the tone for a meeting featuring other big names in life sciences bidding for a sharper, more business-oriented approach to healthcare, including Dr Anders Ekblom, executive vice president, AstraZeneca, Dr Mikael Dolsten, president, Biotechnology R&D, Pfizer-Wyeth, and Dr Paul Bolno, vice president, GlaxoSmithKline.

The organisers have declared that, coinciding with the new US President's determination to push for profound reform in healthcare provision in the world's largest economy, the meeting aims to catalyse radical thinking on what will make for better provision — and better business — worldwide.

Barbro Ehnbom, who is chairing the conference — and whose background goes back as far as Smith Kline and American Home Products — sees a watershed moment: "The healthcare world has changed. The rules have changed," she says. "Although the US continues to be at the centre of the life sciences economy, many of the previous tenets we took for granted have changed… The focus is not simply on how we finance innovation and drug development but also on how we reach the market." She champions technology as "a vital driver."

Sweden is having to pilot the EU through what are arguably the most difficult six months the Union has faced since it came into existence. Against the background of the economic and financial crisis, and in the face of the tough choices that will have to be made before the world summit on climate change in Copenhagen in December, the EU is drifting without agreement on its constitution or on who should lead it over the next five years.

Despite that, the Swedish government is working hard to secure EU-level agreements on how to fight counterfeit drugs, how to improve patent protection, and how to sharpen boost research policy — including on preventive measures against pandemics, and on tackling the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The life sciences discussions in August should impart some valuable momentum to its efforts.

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