Time for a health innovation pact: rethinking the design and delivery of healthcare

Janssen’s Anouk De Vroey on why we need to extend the public/private partnerships resulting from COVID-19 into more high-level dialogue on health innovation with governments.

Friday 13th March 2020 – I am not a superstitious person in general, but I will never forget that particular Friday the 13th, as it marked the start of the COVID-19 lockdown in Belgium.

Wishing someone good health is a common custom with a long history, but being and staying healthy has never been more important. Nor, indeed, collaboration. In 20 years of working in the pharmaceutical sector, I’ve seen a steadily increasing willingness to partner with others to optimise healthcare and accelerate scientific research – a willingness that has only been amplified by this new context in which we find ourselves.

COVID-19 continues to have a devastating impact on peoples’ lives and businesses, and it has brought into the sharpest focus the need for everyone to work together to find both immediate and long-term solutions.

Partnering on the road to European recovery

Industries and sectors have already joined forces to develop diagnostics, therapies and vaccines that could help tackle the disease. At Janssen Belgium, for example, we quickly set up a dedicated lab for COVID-19 diagnostic testing at our Beerse campus, in collaboration with the federal government, universities and other pharmaceutical companies.

We have also seen regulators and policymakers working at an incredible speed to streamline regulatory processes and put in place new emergency measures to support the search for potential treatments and vaccines.

No single person, company, or even industry can succeed alone in making COVID-19, or any other disease, a thing of the past. It’s going to take a tremendous joint effort. This pandemic has catalysed a spirit of collaboration and demonstrated what can be achieved when society comes together with one common goal. We must continue to make progress on some of the most pressing issues facing healthcare systems, and put in place a robust, long-term policy framework that supports and enables innovation.

We need to ask ourselves how this model of partnership and trust can improve future policy, as we still face many other global public health challenges. While some threats are unpredictable, others – such as the urgent need to tackle anti-microbial resistance (AMR) – are known, and we will be better prepared for future challenges if we can operate in a framework where public policy priorities and industry incentives are aligned.

Johnson & Johnson is one of the participants in the AMR Action Fund, recently set up by a group of leading biopharmaceutical companies in collaboration with the World Health Organization, The European Investment Bank, and the Wellcome Trust. The Fund has pledged to invest nearly $1 billion, with the aim of bringing two to four new antibiotics to market by 2030. If successful, I believe that we will see many more of these types of collaborations.

“This pandemic has catalysed a spirit of collaboration and demonstrated what can be achieved when society comes together with one common goal.. We need to ask ourselves how this model of partnership and trust can improve future policy”

Building a health innovation pact for the future

As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to evolve, European citizens have been experiencing a dual-pronged crisis; firstly, as a result of the major strain placed on healthcare and, subsequently, due to the impact on the European economy.

However, these challenges are coupled with an opportunity to build on the crisis-born willingness to create healthcare systems that are better equipped to deliver value on both a local and global scale. We need to extend the public/private partnerships that have resulted from the crisis into a high-level, strategic dialogue with local governments and the European Union institutions.

  • In the short term, joint efforts to upscale screening, tracking, tracing and data capture should be prioritised until an effective vaccine is available.
  • During the crisis, there has been a transition to telemedicine solutions at a speed previously unheard of, so we should leverage these learnings to accelerate healthcare digitisation. Remote consultations and monitoring have provided an alternative to hospital visits, showing that digital options have the potential to free up resources in health systems, and enable patient-centric solutions where people can receive care in their own homes.
  • In the longer term, we need to work together with all stakeholders to co-create a blueprint for European healthcare systems that addresses tomorrow’s needs, including – but not limited to – establishing new payment models and a greater use of big data and real-world evidence.

At Janssen, we are more committed than ever to collaborating with healthcare authorities and the research and healthcare communities (both public and private), to achieve the common goal of improving the care patients receive. We want to enable people, resources and world-leading science to contribute to the EU recovery plan. But we are just one company. Reinforcing the importance of healthcare across Europe in the long run will only be possible with a strong and innovative contribution from the entire pharmaceutical industry.

What does policy progress look like?

We all have a responsibility to work together and create innovation pacts with society that foster progress and enable lasting change. These pacts would include:

  • Improving readiness for future challenges and disease prevention. We need a globally coordinated approach to the development, testing, approval and production of vaccines and treatments. Policymakers and the industry will need to work more closely to ensure appropriate mechanisms are in place to accelerate the rapid deployment of effective interventions across the globe. We also need to ensure that the healthcare of patients suffering from other diseases is not compromised during times of worldwide crisis.
  • Supporting value-based healthcare. Sophisticated methods are needed to define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The use of real-world data (RWD) on a vast scale can help improve patient outcomes, drive more comprehensive measurements of value, and support decision-makers as they assess different forms of treatment in the context of limited healthcare budgets. Regulatory and HTA processes must adapt and embrace a systematic use of RWD, and efforts to iron out the significant variability across European HTA systems should continue.
  • Developing healthcare solutions that are more patient-centric and can generate better outcomes. We must integrate the perspective of the patient into all levels of decision-making, using digital apps and devices where possible to involve patients in their entire treatment pathway.
  • Improving and maintaining a world-class system for the approval of medicines. The current focus on strengthening EU health agencies is encouraging, and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has done well so far. But it is essential to keep pace with scientific progress. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) should play a pivotal role in coordinating surveillance, preparedness and response – leaving each European country to do this independently could jeopardise the EU’s ability to lead on healthcare and science policy.

I hope, in time, that we will look back on Friday 13th March 2020 as not only the start of the Belgian lockdown, but also as the beginning of a healthy European future; one that brings together science and robust policymaking, and sees more trust and greater transparency between partners. An innovation health pact between industry and health authorities could make this vision a reality. A unilateral focus on short-term austerity measures will not.

If we can strengthen a framework that incentivises innovation, we can help provide society with opportunities to access essential vaccines and transformational therapies in areas where optimal solutions do not currently exist.

 

About the author

Anouk De Vroey is senior director, government affairs & policy EMEA at Johnson & Johnson. She is a member of the Janssen EMEA Leadership Team and also leads the Janssen External Affairs Council, driving the way the company responds to the external environment. Anouk advocates for policies across EMEA that can ensure optimal access to care for patients, and is also involved in several platforms that support a climate of biopharmaceutical innovation. Prior to joining Johnson & Johnson, Anouk was European Lead of the Global Policy, Advocacy & Government Affairs department at Bristol-Myers Squibb.