The new European Commission is due to enter into force from 1st November, after the Commissioners-designated were heard and voted by the European Parliament. Many are also the suggestions advanced by stakeholders in view of the five years term of action of the von der Leyen Commission.

Stella Kyriakides is the new Health Commissioner

The new Commissioner for Environment, Health and Food safety is Cyprus’ representative Stella Kyriakides; she has been heard on 1st October by the ENVI Commission of the European Parliament. The new Health Commissioner is a clinical psychologist with a long experience both as a politician and in the field of patients’ advocacy, where she held several top positions in important organisations in the field of cancer (Europa Donna European Breast Cancer Coalition, Europa Donna Cyprus Breast Cancer Forum, Patient Advisory Committee (PAC) of the European Cancer Organisation, Cyprus’ National Committee on Cancer) (see here the complete CV). 

A moment of Stella Kyriakides hearing (credits: European Parliament)

In her speech to the ENVI Committee, Mrs Kyriakides fully embraced the new vision of a green new deal and sustainable revolution aimed to create a healthier, new digital world. The proposed Beating European Cancer Plan should be one of the main actions to be delivered within her agenda, to be achieved using an holistic approach. 

Research to find new treatment options for cancer – but also new diagnostics and new opportunities for survival and palliative care – should be one of the key activities of the Cancer Plan, together with the creation of a European Health Data Space and the fight of antimicrobial resistance. Innovation in digital technologies applied to the health sector shall be a fundamental enabler to reach the goal.

Answering to the questions posed during the hearing, Stella Kyriakides said screening programmes for cancer should be accredited and based on common European guidelines. Other themes touched included shortage of medicines – a hot problem on which the new Commissioner took time to deep her understanding – and the possible return on the EU territory of many pharmaceutical companies which had delocalised their activities in extra-EU countries. Digitalisation and support to scientific development are key issues to be addressed to make this possible – said Mrs Kyriakides – together with a better attention to price and reimbursement policies, health technology assessment and new business models. Stella Kyriakides told about the possibility to improve cross-border paediatric clinical studies, even if she would wait for the termination of EMA’s evaluations before any decision about the possible review of the EU regulations on paediatrics and orphan drugs.

Mariya Gabriel is the Commissioner for Innovation and Youth

The new Commissioner for Innovation and Youth is Mariya Gabriel, who served already as EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society in the Juncker Commission. The continuity of action with her previous role will inspire Mrs Gabriel future action, she said during the joint hearing with the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and the Committee on Culture and Education of the European Parliament. 

Mariya Gabriel during the hearing (credits: European Parliament)

New synergies of actions across the different European programmes for research, innovation and education – i.e. Horizon Europe, Erasmus, Creative Europe, DiscoverEU – shall be one of the priority for Mariya Gabriel, in order to reach a more coherent frameworkable to act on the lives of European citizens”. Mrs Gabriel too recalled the importance of the new green agenda to support ecological, social and economic transitions. 

The European Union should continue to be a global leader in research, said the Commissioner-designated; to achieve this, the EU framework programme shall remain open and attractive. Another important point to boost competitiveness is the ability to maintain in the EU territory both top scientists and young and innovative, small and medium size companies: a future target for the European Innovation Council, said Mrs Gabriel. Partenariats are another possible “win-win solution” she suggested during the hearing, as well as the possible creation of a European space for education and European universities. Furthermore, the Erasmus programme may become in future “greener” and more inclusive. 

These very ambitious goals should be pursuits, according to the candidate Commissioner, by tripling the investments available within the EU’s budget. Mariya Gabriel also suggested that Horizon Europe’s mission councils should name a person responsible to keep contacts with the EU Parliament, in order to better inform it on new evolutions and decisions. A first pilot project might be activated in 2020, she said. The candidate Commissioner also explained that Horizon Europe’s missions “will be public goods, we have to convince citizens that it is necessary and used for them”. A possible communication campaign to better link science with people and young generations may be a possible way to address this goal. 

Mariya Gabriel’s commitment to support excellent research in Europe has been welcomed with a note by Science Europe, the association representing many primary funding European institutions.

A call to higher Horizon Europe’s budget

In the meantime, on 16 September, 93 European associations in the field of research and innovation (among which EFPIA, EuropaBio, MedTech Europe and Vaccines Europe) signed a Joint Statement urging the von der Leyen Commission to make research, development and innovation (RD&I) a priority within the next Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027.

The request is to raise Horizon Europe’s budget to at least €120 billion (in 2018 prices); at least 60% of the sum should be dedicated to the “Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness” pillar, considered essential to break down silos and promote the flow of knowledge between public research and industry. According to the Statement, this wider financial basis would allow not only to safeguard the competitiveness of the European Union, but would also support the creation of up to 100,000 jobs in RD&I activities between 2021-2027, with a €11 return of GDP for each euro invested over 25 years.

EFPIA’s priorities and the European Cancer Dashboard

EFPIA’s representative Kristene Peers summarised from the Federation’s blog the key priorities in the pharmaceutical sector, starting from an affordable and rapid access to medicines that can extend or transform the lives of patients. The industry also wishes a regulatory system able to accelerate rather than hold back access to safe and effective innovative medicines and the availability of incentives to support research and development of new treatments.

The EFPIA Oncology Platform – in collaboration with European Cancer Organisation (ECCO) and European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) – has also announced the organisation of a session during the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) specifically designed to discuss how to approach the development of the European Cancer Plan which is one of the core proposals of the new Health Commissioner. 

The final goal, says EFPIA, is to inspire discussion about the Plan by introducing a European Cancer Dashboard based on the recently updated Comparator Report on patient access to cancer medicines in Europe. The expected outcomes to be identified are key-performance indicators (e.g. survival, time to return to work, rehabilitation, progress, quality of care, expenditure and innovation) to be used within the new Plan.

Other suggestions for health and research

According to the new vision of the circular economy, the above mentioned two EU’s Commissioners should not be the only one to deal with innovation. A major role may be also granted to the new commissioner for Internal Market still to be designated (the first candidate, France’s Sylvie Goulard, failed the hearings, blocking de facto the final vote of the Parliament), and Margrethe Vestager, EU’s vice-president for the Digital Age. This last agenda is particularly compelling, as Mrs Vestager is expected to rapidly produce a new strategy for artificial intelligence and its ethical implications (see here Science | Business).

Another hot issue waiting for the action of the new Commission is the possible competition between two important European institutions dealing with research, the European Innovation Council (EIC) and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). This topic has been addressed by the director general of the DG Research, Jean-Eric Paquet, during a hearing at the EU Parliament (see here more). The two institutions should offer different services and funding opportunities to researchers and companies, said Paquet. The new layout for the mission of the Innovation and Youth Commissioner, that will include for the first time also education under the same umbrella, may also ask for a new design for the directorates. 

The think-tank Bruegel’s indication is to keep the ERC independent from any sort of oversight. To facilitate access to scientific information, Bruegel also suggests the new EU Commission to act in order to lower the subscription fees of scientific journals and to run negotiations with publishers on fair prices for providing open access. As for education, the think-tank suggests revamping the Marie Curie scientist training programme (see here more).