PharmExec Blog

The New EU Health Commissioner: Industrys Trojan Horse?

EuroGuest blog post by Reflector, Pharm Exec Europe’s Brussels correspondent.

The November announcement of a switch in European Union responsibilities for pharmaceuticals sowed alarm and despondency within the pharmaceutical industry in Europe. The fear was that key priorities would be neglected with the removal of drugs policy from the industry commissioner’s portfolio.

Giving it to the new health commissioner would, it was assumed, dilute the industry’s influence in an ocean of well-meaning but misguided social babble led by health-insurance and health-activist lobbies.

John Dalli, the little-known nominee for the new post, may be about to prove the industry fears unfounded. The minister from Malta, who is due to take office in the new year, has indicated a strong pro-industry line in his first official utterances.

In a letter to the European Parliament, he makes clear that one of his priorities will be “to make affordable, safe and efficacious medicines available to patients across the EU.” Integrating pharmaceuticals into public health “requires careful management,” he says,  and “we must strive to reinvigorate this sector through innovation and enhancing its economic competitiveness.”

He accepts “the paramount principle of patient safety,” but there is, he says, no contradiction in pursuing both goals. He makes clear that he wants to speed up drug approvals and cut the cost of the process. He will take advantage of an upcoming review of the European Medicines Agency to assess “whether there is scope for measures whereby we can optimize the bringing of new medicines to the market as quickly as possible and with the minimum of expense.”

He speaks of his commitment to defending consumer interests against counterfeit pharmaceutical sales on the internet, and is ready to push for tighter enforcement,  because counterfeiting is not only “an affront to consumers, but also because this attacks Europe’s economic wellbeing, especially as it undermines innovation.”

And he offers no concessions to public prejudices about new science. On  cloning, nanotechnology and genetically modified organisms, he says policy will be based on scientific facts, and will aim to “enhance Europe’s innovative drive” while taking due account of ethics and risks.

But Dalli is not yet a shoo-in. As a member of the centre-right European People’s Party, he can expect support from the centre-right majority in the parliament. But there was wide parliamentary backing for putting pharmaceuticals into the health commissioner’s portfolio, and the intention was not to make life easier for drug firms. Nor do the patient groups and health activists that have long lobbied for this change expect to see the switch subverted by the new man in charge.

If Dalli is perceived by too many anti-industry forces as a pro-industry Trojan horse at the very heart of EU health policy, he may not win the endorsement he needs from the parliament, when he faces MEPs in January before a crucial vote on the new Commission.

This should make the parliament’s routine hearings of commissioners-designate just a little bit more interesting than normal.

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