(26 October 2021) EPSU welcomed the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe and expressed the need to strengthen public research and public companies to deliver quality, affordable and accessible medicines available for all. The European Parliaments’ Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety voted on its position on the Commission Strategy October 11, 2021. The report was presented by Dolors Montserrat. Parliament’s position falls short of ambition.
First, the report supports the Commission as it underlines the need for a European framework for the national plans as well as investment and research for innovative medicines for rare diseases, paediatric cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases or to deal with antimicrobial resistance (AMR). For EPSU, such funds are welcome. That help meet the increase in costs of medicines treating cancers or rare diseases which become unaffordable for MS.
We are concerned about the exaggerated willingness to enrol the private sector in the research and the funding. In fact, public-private partnerships and the increased competition supported enhance a profit-oriented pharmaceutical market and are not compatible with a patient-centred approach. Therefore, EPSU calls to support the creation of public pharmaceutical companies, providing research in the public interest. The EU strategy should rely on public institutions and enhancing a vision of the future of the research, not based solely on the private industry.
Secondly, the report mentions the “importance of creating quality jobs in the EU along the entire pharmaceutical value chain” and “measures to promote employment in the pharmaceutical sector, facilitating talent retention and mobility at EU level”. The Commission is not mentioning the need for better working conditions, more social dialogue, and collective bargaining. These must be considered to guarantee “quality jobs”. In the value chain outside the EU, it is also crucial to assure quality employment through negotiations with trade unions and promote due diligence.
Third, the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety pointed to the growing threat of shortages of essential medicines highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis. There are many factors responsible for these shortages, such as great dependence on non-EU countries in term of active pharmaceutical ingredients, chemical raw materials, and medicines. EPSU supports the securing of supply chains in the pharmaceutical industry by investing at EU-scale in the pharmaceutical market.
However, this should be paired with the stop of austerity measures, which create chronic underinvestment and privatization of the health sector and making medical treatment less accessible for the EU citizens. The pandemic demonstrated the unequal access to PPEs and unaffordable medicines, essentially due to the austerity measures led by the countries over the past decade.
Lastly, the report of the rapporteur holds a double discourse by calling for more competition on one hand and stabilizing and equilibrating the pricing systems on the other hand. It still paints a vision of more competition of public and private actors in a deregulated pharmaceutical market with few regulations.
EPSU is committed in a stabilized pricing system through more transparency in research costs, return of investments and price settings. EPSU is concerned that the report mentions only the “regulatory knowledge of researchers and non-profit stakeholders”, where a strong regulation of the pricing system is needed. In no case the “stabilizing and equilibrating pricing system” should be an open-door for increased competition constructed on the wins and profits of private stakeholders.