Column: The EU must up its game to retain pharma strength

"There was once a time when the EU was the clear frontrunner in the world when it came to researching and developing the drugs of tomorrow," writes Linea Søgaard-Lidell, member of the European Parliament for Danish political party Venstre.

Photo: Michel Christen / European Union 2021 / PR

The pharmaceutical industry is on the EU agenda, and we are working on a new strategy for the industry. The Covid-19 pandemic put a renewed focus on the business in the hunt for vaccines, and most of us are probably pretty pleased about having a well-functioning industry that struck while the iron was hot when it came to developing vaccines quickly. Most also wanted a vaccine production that was close to Europeans.

And yet, it seems as if this experience has already been forgotten here, in the European Parliament.

In any case, a strong left chamber has been hard at work worsening patent rights and making new demands of EU pharmaceutical businesses – instead of debating what is most important when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry: precisely what is needed to maintain the European competitive edge.

There was once a time when the EU was the clear frontrunner in the world when it came to researching and developing the drugs of tomorrow, but in just two decades, we have lagged behind. Compared to Europe, the markets are growing more in China, India and Brazil – and in the US, twice as many drugs are being invented than in Europe.

Brexit hasn't improved things. The UK used to be the home of Europe's leading research institutions within the pharma industry – the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, for example – and if the British government is doing what we expect, loosening rules and lessening paperwork for the development of new drugs, it will become markedly more difficult for the EU to keep up.

Perhaps it is easier for a politician to become popular by proclaiming that Europeans have a right to receive exactly the same medication – and that all of medicine belongs to humankind and not those who develop drugs. It is my honest opinion that this is too simplistic a worldview.

Of course Europeans must have a good access to to drugs. But I cannot see how success is achieved without a strong industry in which research, experiments and risk could pay off.

We must not make it even more difficult to run businesses in the EU as we risk killing the innovation necessary for a healthy, European industry, which, at the end of the day, is responsible for both developing drugs and treating patients who have unmet needs today.

You don't make it to the front of the competition without hard work, and it would suit the politicians of the EU to help the European industry on its way instead of working against it. Particularly when we are face to face with tough, global competition.

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