EU Commission Conference Pushes Personalised Medicine Agenda

Personalised medicine through a research policy lens

The European Commission’s two-day Personalised Medicine Conference for 2016 (1-2 June) explored personalised medicine specifically through a research policy lens. 

It looked to showcase the state-of-the-science in the field and take an in-depth look at research and innovation challenges involved in advancing the field for the benefit of EU patients and citizens.

Key speakers and participants included: Paulo Lisboa, Professor and Head of Department of Applied Mathematics, John Moores University, Liverpool; Anders Olauson, Honorary President, European Patients' Forum; Peter Kapitein, Patient Advocate, Inspire2Live, Amsterdam; Rudi Westendorp, University of Copenhagen, as well as; Andrzej Rys, Director of Health systems, medical products and innovation, Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, European Commission.

These were joined by many others including: Wolfgang Ballensiefen, Project and Programme Manager, German Aerospace Centre; Paul Timmers, Director of Digital Society, Trust and Security Directorate, Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, European Commission; Ernst Hafen, Head of Institute of Molecular Systems Biology, ETH Zurich, and; Jan-Eric Litton, Director General, Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure, Stockholm.

Also present were: Peter Høngaard Andersen, Chief Executive Officer, Innovation Fund Denmark, Copenhagen; Mary Harney, former Irish Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister; Gaetano Guglielmi, Deputy Director General, General Directorate for Research and Innovation in Healthcare, Italian ministry of health, Rome, and; Walter Ricciardi, President, Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Rome.

This builds on the EU Council Conclusions on Personalised Medicine from the end of last year which were done during the Luxembourg EU Presidency. 

At the event in the Commission’s Charlemagne building in Brussels a new initiative was presented, involving funding and policy making organisations from Europe and beyond. This is called the International Consortium for Personalised Medicine (IC PerMed) and followed on from the launch of the two-year PerMed report ahead of the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine conference in 2015.

IC PerMed will, in part, focus on fostering and coordinating research and innovation actions to deliver on its mission statement. A large part of this work will be to build the evidence base needed to progress in the area of personalised medicine, and in doing so, avoiding the duplication of ongoing policy discussions at an EU-level or intruding in areas of competence of the EU Member States.

Its vision is to use research as driver of personalised medicine and its member organisations will work to:

  • Establish Europe as a global leader in personalised medicine research
  • Support the personalised medicine science base through a coordinated approach to research
  • Provide evidence to demonstrate the benefit of personalised medicine to citizens and healthcare systems
  • Pave the way for personalised medicine approaches for citizens

The IC PerMed roadmap will be structured as a list of research actions according to these five challenges. The first version of the roadmap, which will be updated at regular intervals, will be published in the end of this year. IC PerMed members will work together to implement the actions agreed upon.  

During the conference, several challenges were identified and discussed at high-level. These included:

Developing awareness and empowerment

Personalised Medicine promises more effective prevention and prediction of diseases, and earlier and safer treatment. It will change our approach to public health and the way we care for patients in the future. However, to successfully implement it, all stakeholders, including patients and healthcare professionals, need to be empowered and aware of its potential. 

Integrating Big Data and ICT solutions

The datasets generated by large-scale sequencing and “omics” technologies are extensive and when combined with clinical, imaging, nutritional, life style and environmental exposure data they produce ‘big data’ of great value. These developments need further research efforts to fully develop their great potential, such as in improving disease stratification and paving the way of a more personalised medicine. 

Translating basic to clinical research and beyond

In order for personalised medicine to reach its anticipated impact on human health and wellbeing, the collaboration and communication across the continuum of research is required. The overall challenge is the efficient cross-talk of basic researchers, clinicians and public health experts during the long-term follow-up of healthy individuals and patients, which is a prerequisite for understanding the effect of genetic variations in diseases and for discovering robust biomarkers.

Bringing innovation to the market

Personalised Medicine has the potential to radically change the way citizens learn and care about their health, both in terms of disease prevention and management. However, bringing innovation to the market has several challenges which need to be addressed. It is moreover important to understand the drivers and enablers behind innovation so that they can be fully exploited.

Shaping sustainable healthcare

Personalised medicine presents both opportunities and challenges for health care systems. By making sure that only the patients who will benefit from treatments receive them, it could help contain costs. By focusing on prediction and prevention, it could also help to reduce healthcare spending in the long term. However, targeted medicines are often very expensive and can strain the budgets of health care systems.

All these topics were fully debated and conclusions via a conference report will be published in due course.