PharmExec Blog

EU Health Commissioner Emerges from the Dark

After a period of near invisibility, the EU’s health commissioner John Dalli has begun to make some higher profile appearance. Pharm Exec’s Europe correspondent Reflector assesses how these have been received by the pharma industry.

Just before the holiday break, John Dalli,
the European Union’s unEU-flag2obtrusive commissioner for health, has at last emerged from obscurity to leave a mark on pharma policy — even if it’s only a small one. In fact he has popped up repeatedly over recent weeks, in think-tank seminars, public conferences, meetings of health ministers, and in the European Parliament — as if determined to disprove the mounting allegations that he was massively over-promoted when he got this job, and that he knows nothing and cares less
about pharmaceuticals.

Dalli has some big challenges to overcome. As a former minister from the EU’s smallest member state, he was a surprise nomination for the health and consumer portfolio when the new European Commission was formed at the start of 2010. Pharma industry executives murmured their concerns about a loss of industry-minded sponsorship as result of the shift — concerns that were in no way assuaged by the howls of glee from health activists who had long been calling for drug industry interests to be subordinate to public health interests in EU
policy making.

Concerns were compounded by the fact that for months, Dalli barely said a word about pharma, and barely found time to exchange so much as the time of day withpharma industry leaders. Dalli was immersed in more pressing matters under his authority — including major proposals for reforming the EU’s contentious regulation of genetically modified plants, broad new measures to boost consumers rights across the EU single market, and building up Europe’s defences against hazardous products. When he did start to speak, it wasn’t immediately reassuring either. In September he made one of his first medicines related appearances in the EuropeanParliament, during the final debate on the new pharmacovigilance rules.

He warmly welcomed the Parliament’s backing for the tough new rules as “good news for Europeans,” which would “ensure greater patient safety and improved public health.” The emphasis was all on consumer benefit,with the pharma industry perceived mainly as the bad boy in the scenario.

Since then he has intervened on pharma matters on half a dozen occasions in public, and pharma industry policy experts are still trying to interpret just where he stands on some of the key issues for the industry. He has made clear his support for e-health, for better quality information to patients, for effective action to combat counterfeiting… but on the subjects of closest concern to the industry — notably support for innovation and greater attention to industrial imperatives in drug pricing — he has been more elusive.

Just weeks ago, he did finally have a face-to-face meeting with industryleaders — and acquitted himself well, according to many of those present. And in the early days of December he won public praise from no less a figure than Andrew Witty, who now combines his role as CEO of GlaxoSmithKline with that of president of the pharma industry’s principal European federation, EFPIA. Witty said he was “extremely pleasantly surprised” by the “broad, positive and constructive co-operation” he had encountered with Dalli and his officials, and spoke of “impetus” and a sense of “going somewhere” on a “shared agenda.”

Very encouraging for industry watchers, in its way. But at the same time, Dalli and his officials have been issuing numerous warnings of the need for tight control of pharma costs and more intensive and more effective use ofhealth technology assessment in pricing and reimbursement. The December meeting of the EU health council, which brings together national health ministers and which is largely fed by preparatory papers from the Commission, signed off on several documents that took a very tough approach to pharma costs.

And even Witty acknowledged that there was a constant worry about the EU approach to pharma economics. So the jury is still out on what Dalli wants to do for or with pharma — or what he can do! 2011 will provide plenty of scope for Dalli to demonstrate that he has not, in the words of the old song, “lost me way and don’t know where to roam”.

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One Comment

  1. Posted April 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Being an EU Health Commissioner is not an easy task. There are a number of heavy responsibilities to take on his shoulder. The work covers a huge scope that even superman, who has strong muscles and 6 Pack Abs, could hardly do on his own. It would only be right to give him enough time to prove his worth.

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