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Gap between EU & US on pharmaceutical investments too wide - industry

Photo illustration of teenager looking through medication in home cabinet, March 11, 2010.
Photo illustration of teenager looking through medication in home cabinet, March 11, 2010. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Gregoire Lory
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The European Commission will publish proposals next month updating its pharmaceutical regulation.

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The gap in pharmaceutical investments between the European Union and the United States is widening by too much, according to the industry.

The sector is concerned that the difference between the EU and its American and Asian competitors, in terms of investment and access to the latest treatments, is becoming too big, and if it continues at this rate will be unbridgeable.

At the end of March, the European Commission will present its revision plans to the EU's general pharmaceuticals legislation, in what will be an update to a 20-year-old text.

It is in this area that the pharmaceutical industry is stepping up its lobbying efforts to influence the Commission's final proposals.

Part of their action plan has already been visible in the heart of the European quarter in Brussels, with an advertising campaign explaining the gap in investments littered on posters throughout the area.

"There are some significant gaps. The investment gap between the US and the EU 20 years ago was €2 billion, and now it's €25 billion," Nathalie Moll, Director General of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations told Euronews.

"That's a 1,000% increase in the gap and that's very worrying if that trend continues and we want to stop it and reverse it."

It is for this reason that the pharmaceutical industry is taking an alarming view of the Commission's current draft text.

Moll says that 25 years ago, 50% of new treatments came from Europe, with one in five new treatments now coming from Europe, posing a serious threat to employment and competitiveness in Europe.

Virginia Acha, who works on global regulatory policy at Merck Sharp and Dohme, says it is worrying to see that companies are beginning to transfer some of their activities outside of Europe.

"In recent years we've seen unfortunately a move of clinical research to other parts of the world," Acha told Euronews.

"We've seen investments moving again to the US and other parts of the world. The US has taken what used to be Europe's leading advantage in biotechnology and now it's in the US and we'd like to see Europe reclaim that role."

One thing that the pharmaceutical companies do have in their favour is their economic weight. The sector is worth €43 billion per year when it comes to research and development and directly employs 840,000 people, supporting 2.5 million jobs in the EU.

Inevitably, this allows them to flex their muscles, so to speak.

For the moment though, the Commission is seemingly not phased, plodding on with its revision of the EU general pharmaceuticals legislation.

Its response to questions is that the aim of the reform is "to strike the right balance between promoting innovation and ensuring access to affordable medicines across the EU".

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