Late to the party but we brought friends: BeneLuxA’s horizon scanning initiative

It can feel good to know what is coming your way; that’s no different for new medicines and other med tech either. The idea of scanning the horizon to see what’s in development and which drugs and other tech might eventually make it to market is not new. However, it’s a key focus of collaborative work under the BeneLuxA horizon scanning initiative.

What is BeneLuxA?

The Health Ministers of Belgium and the Netherlands set up a collaborative effort in 2015, providing the beginnings of today’s BeneLuxA collaboration. The idea was for the two relatively small countries to join together so that both could horizon scan, share information, cooperate on Health Technology Assessment (HTA) and negotiate together on price for selected drugs.

This collaborative has grown and now also includes Austria, Ireland and Luxembourg, building on a report from the KCE in Belgium.

BeneLuxA’s IHSI

In October 2018 the Dutch Ministry of Health opened an open market consultation to help prepare for joint procurement for a Horizon Scanning System. BeneLuxA is setting up the International Horizon Scanning Initiative (IHSI) as an international not-for-profit association. Any country could choose to be part of the IHSI.

The IHSI will be building on the work that BeneLuxA has already being doing on horizon scanning. They have been working together to highlight what they see as important pharmaceutical innovations before launch. They gather data and analyse the available research and literature. The collaborative sees this as helpful to understand costs and as part of supporting timely decision making and later price negotiations.

No room at the inn?

The BeneLuxA IHSI is just the latest in a very long list of long-term scenario planning activities. EMA already does it; the EUnetHTA collaboration is exploring horizon scanning for the HTA network in Europe in the future.

Plus there’s EuroScan as a not-for-profit collaborative, around since 1999. EuroScan’s reach goes beyond Europe with memorandums of understanding with various agencies and collaboratives with an interest including the World Health Organisation and HTA networks in Asia and Latin America.

Individual countries also have implemented horizon scanning solutions. The UK has the UKMi Horizon Scanning and Medicines Evaluation Service and UK PharmaScan, and that’s not even covering the efforts in Scotland and Wales too.

BeneLuxA is late to the horizon scanning party, although it may be taking a different focus if it keeps looking at really rare treatments, as it did with the first successfully concluded joint negotiations for Spinraza (nusinersen) used in the treatment of the rare condition Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).

Getting horizon scanning right

Whilst there is a plethora of these activities ongoing there is also the opportunity to learn lessons to get horizon scanning right in IHSI.

Doing horizon scanning right once, could be a big selling point for companies. Companies after all are the ones who have to provide key information (although they are not the only source of data) and streamlining this across countries would be welcome.

Given the way that the outputs of this work are used – everything from education to prioritising which drugs will be subject to HTA and/or are likely to need a deal to secure price and reimbursement – also means that it’s important to all stakeholders that the right information is collated.

The BeneLuxA initiative has the opportunity to learn from previous experiences, and make a fresh start. The initiative could benefit too from today’s IT platforms that can process the data for more effectively and generate insights which previously would not have been available.

Next steps

Whilst of course what different stakeholders within different countries want from horizon scanning will differ, there is surely cross-over. BeneLuxA will need to offer something that is complementary if the IHSI is to take off. An early signal of the level of interest is likely from who attended the BeneLuxA’s 12 November meeting to discuss IHSI. Reports suggest that the horizon scanning work of BeneLuxA was already of interest to between ten and twenty countries in any case.

During 2019 the Dutch Ministry will be formally starting procurement for the IHSI.