Presidents von der Leyen and Michel present the EU priorities for the G20 Leaders’ Summit

Good day, health colleagues, and welcome to the second European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update of the week. In spite of the travails of coronavirus, and concerns about just what will happen at Christmas this year, there is still plenty of positive news in the health arena, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan. 

Lung-cancer screening

With the launch of the European Beating Cancer, EAPM will be organizing a round table on lung-cancer screening in association with the European Respiratory Society, European Radiology Society as well the European Cancer Patient Coalition. The round table is entitled ‘Lung Cancer & Early Diagnosis: The Evidence Exists for Lung Screening Guidelines in the EU’, and the idea is to present a case for the coordinated implementation of lung-cancer screening across the EU Region.

Brexit and Christmas celebration may still be uncertain. The value of lung-cancer screening, however, is not. 

One of the aims of the conference is to put forward an implementation action plan to facilitate the drawing-up of lung cancer screening guidelines by the EU. Comprehensive screening programmes have been in place for some time in respect of several other cancers, but not so lung cancer, the biggest killer of all, while guidelines and best practices shared across member states are urgently required.

What next? 

A stage-shift related to lung cancer screening will allow EU countries to reduce the cost of treatment given that treating early-stage lung cancer has half the cost of treatment at an advanced stage. The Alliance and its stakeholders realize that, among other elements, what is required in Europe is: continuous screening monitoring, with regular reports; assured consistency and enhanced quality of commented data for the screening reports; reference standards for quality and process indicators should be developed and adopted, 

For screening to be cost effective, it has to be applied to the population at risk. For lung cancer, this is not simply based on age and sex, as it is in the majority of breast or colon cancer screening. Europe needs to involve all key groups in developing recommendations and guidelines for implementation, adapted according to the healthcare landscape of individual countries. 

All of the above will be discussed at the lung-cancer screening event on 10 December, and it is envisaged that a co-ordinated plan will emerge, which will make its way to Commission and Parliament policymakers and member state health system chiefs. You can check out the agenda of the conference here, and register here.

WHO envoy: ‘Cautiously optimistic, extremely concerned’

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday (16 November) said it was “cautiously optimistic” about encouraging news on the coronavirus vaccine. However, it added it was “extremely concerned” over surging cases in Europe and the Americas where health workers and systems are being pushed to the “breaking point”. 

“This is not the time for complacency,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus in a news conference from the organization’s headquarters for the first time in two weeks since he self-quarantined after making contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. 

“While we continue to receive encouraging news about COVID-19 vaccines and remain cautiously optimistic about the potential for new tools to start to arrive in the coming months, right now, we are extremely concerned by the surge in cases we’re seeing in some countries, particularly in Europe and the Americas, health workers and health systems are being pushed to the breaking point,” cautioned Tedros, who said he had not tested himself for the virus during his quarantine.

Looking to future of European Health Union

DG SANTE Director General Sandra Gallina made a brief appearance at an OECD webinar unveiling its Health at a Glance: Europe 2020 paper on Thursday (19 November), saying she hopes there will be new chapters to add next year after the European Health Union becomes reality.

Gallina highlighted various EU successes during the pandemic, including procurement of various items and the creation of a clearinghouse for medical goods. But she also warned there “remains significant scope to step up our effectiveness … not all things went well”. 

Germany looks to health data developments 

Germany has agreed to spend €3 billion to digitize its hospitals. This has been “discussed for years,” said Thomas Renner, head of directorate, digitization and innovation at the German health ministry. The country has also developed a single data protection supervising authority.

Interoperable coronavirus apps were developed within a few months. This is a very good example that if we want to achieve something we can,” Renner said.

EU could approve two COVID-19 vaccines in December, says von der Leyen 

The European Commission has agreed deals with several pharmaceutical companies to buy millions of doses of vaccines on behalf of EU member states. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said that two COVID-19 vaccines could receive conditional market authorization as early as the second half of December. 

Speaking after a meeting of EU leaders, von der Leyen said the vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer, which created its serum with German drugmaker BioNTech, could be approved by the end of the year by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) “if all proceeds now without any problem”. She added: “This is the very first step to be able to be on the market.”

WHO says lockdowns would not be needed if mask use reached 95%

World Health Organization Europe Regional Director Hans Kluge has said that if 95% of people wore masks, lockdowns wouldn’t be needed. Speaking at a briefing, Kluge said that mask use is currently at around 60% or less in Europe and that lockdowns should be “last resort” measures. However, he also said that mask use isn’t a panacea and needs to be done in combination with other measures.

UK leaders in talks over ‘four-nation approach’ to Christmas COVID rules

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the government hopes to implement “UK-wide” measures to allow people to see some family members from different households over Christmas “but still keep the virus under control”.

Hancock said the government was in talks with leaders in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to agree a united front that would allow festive cross-border travel within the UK. Wales’s first minister, Mark Drakeford, said he had held discussions with the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, and the other first ministers of the devolved administrations on Wednesday (18 November) about a UK-wide approach to Christmas restrictions, with another meeting planned next week. 

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We agreed some broad parameters on Wednesday (18 November) and remitted officials of all four administrations to work now on the detail, so I remain hopeful that it will be possible to reach a four-nation approach to Christmas.”

Drakeford said that an agreement on permitting travel across the UK during the Christmas season was “top of the list of things to agree”, even if a wider agreement was not possible. Hancock added: “I think it is important that we have an agreed set of rules over Christmas. It is the most important holiday for people in this country. 

“What we are trying to do over Christmas is ensure we have a set of rules across the whole UK so there’s talks going on with the devolved authorities as well to try to agree a common set of rules over Christmas. I think that people would welcome that.”

And that is everything for this week – don’t forget to register for EAPM’s lung-cancer screening round table on 10 December here, read the agenda here, and have a safe and happy weekend.

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