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EU health programme proposed ‘to ensure best use of research’

European Commission proposes €9.4 billion for ‘standalone’ EU4Health programme

The European Commission has used its proposal for the 2021-27 EU budget to suggest setting up a new health programme, which would operate alongside the bloc’s R&D programme Horizon Europe.

“The EU4Health programme will help to ensure best use of research results and facilitate the uptake, scale-up and deployment of health innovation in healthcare systems and clinical practice,” the Commission said on 28 May.

EU4Health should get a budget of €9.4 billion, the Commission proposed, to invest in prevention, crisis preparedness, the procurement of vital medicines and equipment and improving long-term health outcomes.

The Commission said the programme would “help ensure that the EU is equipped with the critical capacities to react to future health crises rapidly and with the necessary scale [by creating] a comprehensive framework for EU health crisis prevention, preparedness and response, complementing and reinforcing efforts at national level”.

It said the programme would support investments in critical health infrastructure, tools, structures, processes, and laboratory capacity, including tools for surveillance, modelling, forecast, prevention and management of outbreaks.

The programme would help fund “the establishment of a mechanism to develop, procure and manage health crisis relevant products such as medicines—including vaccines—and treatments, their intermediates, active pharmaceutical ingredients and raw materials; medical devices and medical equipment such as ventilators, protective clothing and equipment, diagnostic materials and tools”.

In addition, it would support “a longer-term vision of improving health outcomes…through better disease prevention and surveillance, health promotion, access, diagnosis and treatment, and cross-border collaboration in health…and invest in the digital transformation of the healthcare sector and the deployment of interoperable digital infrastructures, including for research and data sharing”.

The Commission budget proposal also said that funding for health R&D under Horizon Europe should be increased. It said Horizon Europe should “scale up the research effort for challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic, the extension of clinical trials, innovative protective measures, virology, vaccines, treatments and diagnostics, and the translation of research findings into public health policy measures”.

According to the Commission, the two programmes would “work closely” together. EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said EU4Health would be “a game changer, a real paradigm shift in how the EU deals with health, and a clear signal that the health of our citizens is more than ever before a priority for us”.

The proposal will need to be discussed by leaders of EU member states, and could be significantly altered. Leaders rejected a previous 2021-27 budget proposal put forward in 2018.

The Commission is also soliciting input on a roadmap for a pharmaceutical strategy for Europe, published on 27 May.

“The overall goal of this strategy, scheduled for adoption by the end of the year, is to help ensure Europe’s supply of safe and affordable medicines to meet patients’ needs and support the European pharmaceutical industry to remain an innovator and world leader,” the Commission said.

The roadmap said the strategy will promote “sustainable innovation” and address “key issues” such as medicines shortages and supporting Europe’s independence in producing pharmaceutical ingredients—shortcomings that have become “even more evident” during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Commission invites citizens and experts to provide feedback through its Better Regulation Portal.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe