On 7 November, the Permanent Representation of the Netherlands to the EU hosted an Oxford-style debate organised by POLITICO. Debaters argued around a crucial topic for EU policy makers and interested bodies such as AER: is personalised medicine the key to sustainable health care?
In his introduction, Jan Kimpen, Chief Medical Officer from Philips, gave the audience a bit of context. He emphasised that the paradigm of medicine is changing, and pointed out that, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, the 40% of the treatments prescribed to patients turn out to be inefficient. This gap could be bridged by making the system more efficient by digitalising the healthcare sector.
Digitalisation can contribute to improve the healthcare sector by upscaling good practices. Three are the main goals to achieve in order to scale up best practices:
- standardisation, so that data can be collected and organised in the same way all around the EU
- exchange of information
- patients and doctors’ engagement
It is indeed crucial to convince both doctors and patients of the importance of sharing information and data, and this will not violate their privacy. Instead, this contributes to a better understanding of diseases, allowing doctors to prescribe more efficient and patient-centred therapies.
Pros and Cons of Personalised Medicine
What is personalised medicine about then? It is first and foremost about making the healthcare sector more person-centred, and therefore more efficient. This could be achieved through digitalisation; reducing waste at the hospital level; redesigning medical education and ensuring the sharing of knowledge. Engaged patients and doctors are crucial to ensure the progressive shift towards personalised medicine, because only when engaged people come together to push decision makers will industry and policies kick-start this shift.
According to some, there is no evidence of personalised medicine having a better impact on patients compared to traditional approaches. In fact, medicine is always about tailoring therapies on the needs of the patients, as someone among the public pointed out. The difference between “personalised medicine” and traditional medicines lies in the approach to medical treatments. The opponent team highlighted that there are cases in which an holistic approach to medical treatment as the one entailed by personalised medicine does not work.
While everyone agrees that Europe should work to achieve a personalised medicine approach in the long-run, concerns were sparked about the feasibility of this shift in a short time frame. At the moment, a personalised medicine approach seems too expansive to afford for most of Europe; such a shift implies first rethinking medicine and make sure that new investments pay off. Indeed, shifting to a personalised medicine approach would imply first training doctors and changing the whole medical education system.
Personalised medicine is based on the 4Ps: medicine should be Personalised, Predictive, Preventive and Participatory. The European Commission could be a key player to ensure preventive and participatory approach to medicine, by proposing ad hoc legislation. Irene Norstedt Head of Unit Innovative and Personalised Medicine at the Directorate General for Research and Innovation – DG RTD told the audience about pilot projects funded by the European Commission. She stressed the importance of building international consortia, and highlighted the crucial role played by the local level and regional authorities.
Maybe it is true what they say, that we are not prepared yet to make the change to a sustainable personalised medicine. It could be too expensive for European countries to afford now. However, this can only encourage us to work more and more in this direction.