May 23. 2024. 8:58

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Athens eyes global pharma investments, defends patent ecosystem protection


Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, says he wants Greece to attract more investment from global pharmaceutical companies, to foster life science innovation and the creation of more Greek intellectual property.

Mitsotakis was speaking at a meeting with the heads of pharma companies and associations in Athens last week. The conversation inevitably turned to controversial intellectual property protection provisions proposed in the EU’s new Pharma Package.

Backed by almost half of his cabinet, Kyriakos Mitsotakis met for around two hours with the CEOs of companies and associations, members of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) at Maximos Mansion, the official seat of the Prime Minister.

“The Government definitely supports entrepreneurship in the health sector, thereby strengthening innovation, Research and Development. And we have evident results,” Vassilis Kontozamanis, Adviser to the Prime Minister and former Alternate Health Minister of Health, told Euractiv, commenting on the reasons that make Greece attractive to investment.

Alberta Bourla, CEO of Pfizer and President of IFPMA, hailed Greece’s “steadfast support for innovation.”

“At the European level, it is one of the countries that we feel take very clear positions when it comes to important aspects of driving innovation, like intellectual property, like access to medicines,” he added.

“The meeting showcased the opportunities presented by biopharmaceutical research and the value of innovation for patients and European health systems,” Mihalis Himonas, Director General of SFEE, the Association of Greek Pharmaceutical Companies, told Euractiv.

Scientific renaissance opportunities for Europe

According to Bourla, the world is at a scientific threshold as research is moving towards innovative therapeutic solutions that entail significant investments.

“We are about to enter a period of ‘scientific renaissance’, where because of advancements in biology and technology, we are going to see significant medical innovation in the next ten years. Of course, this is translated into a significant number of investments,” Bourla commented.

But as of now, the investments are mostly gathered on the other side of the Atlantic.

“At this stage, the lion’s share of these investments stays with the United States. Twenty years ago, the difference between the level of investments in the United States and Europe was approximately $2 billion, so more or less the same. In 2023, it will probably be in excess of $50 billion in favour of the US. This is, I think, a lost opportunity for Europe,” he commented.

Protection of the patent ecosystem

As the pharmaceutical legislation revision is being discussed in Brussels, the implications of the decisions reached on pharmaceutical research and the relevant investments were put front and centre of the discussion at Maximos Mansion.

“Pro-innovation policies, and particularly the protection of intellectual property,” play a significant role for the Pharmaceutical Industry when considering investments, Bourla pointed out.

“In our case, most of our investments are translated into a formula on a piece of paper. It is extremely important if those investments need to happen; someone needs to feel that this intangible property investment is protected,” he added.

“The issues related to European competitiveness are at the heart of our campaign rhetoric in light of the next European elections,” Mitsotakis commented, adding that for his government, but also for the European People’s Party, “this needs to be at the top of our priorities for the next European electoral cycle.”

“We’re losing competitiveness in Europe, we’re failing to attract cutting-edge investment, and lag behind leading innovation indicators, certainly vis-a-vis the US, and this is something that needs to be rectified,” he said.

“We will certainly put a lot of pressure on the other European institutions, especially the Commission, to focus on these issues,” Mitsotakis asserted.

“The Greek Government, recognising the importance of innovation, took a clear position in favour of protecting the patent ecosystem in the context of the revision of the pharmaceutical policy,” Himonas told Euractiv.

A few hours later, the Greek Health Minister, Adonis Georgiadis, talking at a Pharmaceutical Management Conference, said that the Greek Government does not favour major changes to the patent period.

“Greece is in the group of – let’s say – conservative countries; we are not in favour of very big changes in data protection legislation. We are afraid that this could make Europe extremely less competitive,” he said.

Georgiadis also expressed doubt about the effectiveness of providing companies which launch their medicines in all EU 27 countries, two additional years of protection, to balance out the two-year reduction of the baseline RDP (regulatory data protection).

“If you tell me that I can guarantee that someone will simultaneously apply to 27 national medicine agencies and get 27 approvals in two years, I find it completely inapplicable,” he added.

Investment in Greece

Mitsotakis talked about a complicated environment in which the government feels that it needs “to square the circle” by providing citizens access to both innovative but also generic medicines “at the best possible price to make sure that we protect ourselves against disruptions in the supply chains”.

He added, however, that it is necessary: “at the same time to ensure that we continue to favour innovation and offer companies investing in drug discovery the necessary predictability to allocate significant resources towards the development of new innovative drugs.”

Greece as a hub

“The healthcare sector stands in the intersection of a multi-billion [Euro] recovery plan,” Kontozamanis said, adding that “healthcare investment opportunities in Greece are pivoted around three significant pillars: digital transformation, value-based health care, and patient-centricity.”

In this direction, the government’s goal is for Greece to emerge as a Hub in the field of clinical trials, a Big Data analytics and real-world evidence data hub, and a manufacturing location for pharmaceuticals.

“We are establishing the foundation that will enable Greece to become globally competitive in one or more of the 21st-century industries based on cutting-edge technologies, the innovation-based biopharma sector”, he adds.

However, the pharmaceutical sector in Greece is plagued by high clawbacks and returns. In 2023, the Greek pharmaceutical industry’s returns accounted for 50% of the total reimbursed market, and they increased 19% year over year in the last six years. The issue was raised during the meeting in Athens.

“The negative effect of very high clawbacks and rebates was also recognised, followed by a commitment to rationalise them, also increasing predictability in the field”, Himonas told Euractiv.

[By Vasiliki Angouridi, Edited by Brian Maguire | Euractiv’s Advocacy Lab]

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