The proposal made by the European Commission of a Partnership for Health Innovation has been welcomed  by all the associations’ representatives of the pharma and medtech sector (including COCIR, EFPIA, EuropaBio, MedTech Europe and Vaccines Europe). Final target of the initiative is the optimisation of the new models for healthcare systems. “Investment in collaborative R&D can play a significant role in building health resilience, improving European health systems’ sustainability, addressing the needs of patients across Europe, and driving the region’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis”, says the Joint statement signed by the Associations. The final version of the Partnership is expected to provide a harmonised set of rules for institutionalised partnerships across all Europe, while ensuring efficiency and flexibility for cross-sectorial collaboration.

How to support EU health innovation

Four key problem drivers have been identified to be addressed in order to optimise the impact of European research and innovation, starting with the need to better understand the mechanisms of health and disease, with a particular attention to the areas of unmet medical needs. A better collaboration between the academia and industry is also needed to transform research into real innovation. The different industrial sectors in the field of life sciences (i.e. pharma, medtech, vaccines, diagnostics, advanced therapies, imaging and digital industries) should establish more efficient models of collaboration, and many market barriers have still to fail in order to provide better incentives in support of innovation. According to the document, it would be important to rapidly act towards these goals to ensure the sustainability of the entire European healthcare system, which is being deeply impacted by the Covid as well as by the ageing of the population and the consequent increase of chronic and neurodegenerative diseases.

The document discusses data relative to the performance of the different industrial sectors and how the new IHI Partnership can be built and optimised upon the results obtained in the previous IMI and IMI2 initiatives.

The Partnership will also represent an important contribution to achieve many targets set forth by the von der Leyen Commission, especially with regard to the digitalisation of healthcare, a better involvement of SMEs in the creation of value for the European economy, and the achievement of the agendas relative to the European Cancer Plan, the EU One Health Action Plan and the European Green Deal.

Recommendations and objectives

The recommendations made in the draft proposal include the need for a substantial adaptation of the collaborative and funding model to ensure the active engagement of other industrial sectors together with the pharmaceutical industry, a better transparency and a change of the rules to calculate the in-kind contributions from non-European entities, and the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) and call topics generation to reflect interests of stakeholders other than EFPIA. 

Six different specific objectives are considered, including a better understanding of the determinants of health and priority disease areas, a better integration of the yet fragmented health Research & Innovation efforts across sectors and technologies, the availability of tools, data, platforms, technologies and processes to improve prediction, prevention, interception, treatment and management of diseases. The feasibility of people-centred, integrated healthcare solutions along the health care pathway should be also demonstrated, exploiting the full potential of digitalisation and data exchange. The added value of the innovative and integrated healthcare solutions should be assessed using new and more comprehensive methodologies and models.

The draft proposal

The process for the elaboration of the draft Partnership proposal for Health Innovation started in autumn 2019 within the general framework of the planning of the new Horizon Europe framework research programme. All the potential partners forwarded their proposals to the Commission on the basis of a common template and the initial concepts highlighted by the early consultation phase. The current draft represents an intermediate stage in the discussions, before approval of the final document expected in Autumn 2020.

Each Partnership will follow an individual path of approval, during which the Commission Services will assess the respondence to the selection criteria issued by the Commission. The target is to enable the integration of cross-sectoral technologies, know-how, products, services and workflows to provide people-centred health care and timely and well-informed prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The exercise won’t be easy, says the document, as innovative health intervention may result complex to design and implement. Many silos have yet to be overcome in order to fully exploit the possible synergies between discovery and translational research, and academics and industry. These achievements are essential to strengthen the European position as a global leader in medical research, and they also require involvement of patients and other end-users during project design and implementation.