By Dr Ward Rommel, Chair, Access to Medicines Task Force, Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL)
The research and innovation pathway for cancer medicines is challenging from basic research to market access. These challenges comprise high unmet needs, disparities and delays in access, skyrocketing prices, shortages, but also the lack of robust data about the real added value of innovative treatments coming to the market and the weak involvement of patients in Health Technology Assessment (HTA) decisions.
The ever-increasing prices of cancer medicines across Europe have become a subject of growing concern for EU policymakers posing severe threats to patient access as well as to the sustainability of national health systems.
No country can confront these challenges on its own. The increasing calls from cancer leagues and other EU health NGOs for fairer prices in cancer medicines and to guarantee patient access to drugs with proven benefits require urgent and swift policy action.
We now have a window of opportunity to change the current unsustainable system for the benefit of patients through the implementation of the relatively recent Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe and Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.
Affordability, Fair Prices and Transparency
ECL firmly believes that fair prices are the key to affordability. It is crucial to think about what fairness means in practice and how all stakeholders can work together to achieve it. A fair price should reflect the value that the medicine brings to the patients and should reasonably compensate for the cost of bringing the medicine to the market.
We believe that technical and organisational challenges could be overcome by stronger cross-sector collaboration across Europe in this area. To this end, in our recent paper, we have taken a position on what is a fair price for treatment and how a higher level of transparency is a prerequisite for fairer prices.
As a consequence, we are pleased that the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe rightly identifies that the ‘’lack of transparency of research costs or return on investment can influence decisions that impact affordability and ultimately access for patients’’. Transparency throughout the pharmaceutical system can increase the knowledge around pricing and improve the negotiating position of buyers. International cooperation is another lever for Member States to adopt common positions and pool their resources.
Cancer leagues believe incentives should address patients’ needs and that more should be done to steer public and private R&D towards areas with limited treatment options, low survival and/or low commercial interest. EU policymakers could also explore how academia and non-profit organisations can best contribute to the development of innovative medicines, and how EU policies can favour an academic-driven pathway for the development of cancer drugs.
As many medicinal products never reach half of EU Member States despite companies benefitting from incentives granted by legislators, the EU pharmaceutical legislation must ensure that the level of incentives is linked to the actual availability, accessibility, and affordability of pharmaceutical products across Europe and adopt a system guaranteeing that clinical trials lead to evidence on added clinical value of treatment.
Last but not least, patients and participatory decision-making must be at the centre of the drug development process. Only by meaningfully involving patients through the entire development process can we ensure that new therapies add value to people battling cancer and bridge the research gap in areas of unmet needs.
Disclaimer: the opinions – including possible policy recommendations – expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EPHA. The mere appearance of the articles on the EPHA website does not mean an endorsement by EPHA.