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European countries have poor visibility on medicines supply, says Medicines for Europe head

At CPhI Festival of Pharma, head of trade association representing generics and biosimilars manufacturers identifies areas for improvement in Europe's response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed European countries’ poor visibility on medicine shortage and supply management, according to Adrian van den Hoven, director general, Medicines for Europe.

“There’s almost no visibility of inventories held by hospitals or by governments with very few exceptions in Europe,” he told the virtual CPhI Festival of Pharma event in a keynote address sponsored by Novo Nordisk Pharmatech. “And so really we can improve the IT processes and the regulatory agencies and other areas to improve things. We can’t make it perfect but we can do better than we did during the first wave of COVID.”

He said that in this kind of “crisis situation”, close cooperation between European governments and the pharmaceutical industry is vital due to the complex regulatory environment that they operate in “or it’s just not going to work.”

He added that the issue requires transparent sharing of information between pharmaceutical manufacturers and governments “which is easier said than done.”

Van den Hoven also identified the need for some pharmaceutical market reforms in Europe: “For a lot of these medicines we’re talking about for COVID-19, the policy is to try and get the absolute lowest price. I understand that governments need to save money but this is not incentivising companies to invest in things like buffer stocks.”

He added that he believed these issues could easily be integrated into the future pharma strategy for Europe.

“Keeping borders open between European countries and even with our external partners is really important, regulatory flexibility and avoiding country hoarding practices is really essential, so actually  just maintaining our European internal market is critical and to do so we really need more transparency between governments and industry,” he said.

On the positive side, van den Hoven said that one key success story during COVID-19 was that the industry in cooperation with the EU institutions and governments were able to avoid shortages in spite of a massive unprecedented spike in demand.

“We were able to expand production and logistics to dramatically increase supply almost at a moment’s notice,” he said. “This would not have been possible without the good cooperation form the European Commission and member state authorities, notably for regulatory flexibility which was coordinated in practice by the European Medicines Agency.”

Providing a concise summary of how Europe had dealt with the crisis in the first few months, he said that while initially European governments and the European Union had been slow to react to the impending pandemic in February, “our industry was very actively involved from the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis; it got mobilised because we could see the risk of the supply chain problem as large parts of China were shut down, particularly in manufacturing.”

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