Interview with Sabine Akiki, Corporate Affairs Director, Lilly France. This post is the fourth in a series featuring Lilly’s people from across the EU, in which we explore the state of healthcare in their countries, the EU elections and their implications, and more.

1. What are the hot topics on the healthcare agenda in France in the past 12 months and looking ahead to 2019?

The French health ministry presented its ambitious plan for the healthcare system – Ma santé 2022 – in September 2018, which was published in July of this year. It aims to improve equal access to care for patients throughout the country, in particular by furthering the use of technology and transforming the organization of health professionals within the system, putting patients back at the centre of the system.

A key part of the programme involves creating a centralized health data hub containing all patients’ data held within the social security system. Its scale will make France a global leader in health data structuring. In addition, it will introduce measures that will favour the expansion and use of eHealth, from telemedicine through to telecare.

The second part of the national plan involves improving structures to enable patients to access the most suitable healthcare professionals near them at any given time, in part by shifting powers back to the ARS (France’s regional health agencies) and improving communications and integration between smaller hospitals and healthcare professionals at regional level. Having better networks at local level will reduce waiting times for patients who previously might have been sent to major university hospitals rather than being treated by specialists near them.

In October, the Social Security Financing Law for 2020 will be presented and voted by December 2019. We hope that the discussions around the Social Security Financing Laws will take into account our concerns. France has always valued innovation and we want to maintain patients access to therapeutic innovations at fair prices.

2. Why is France a good place for a biopharmaceutical company to invest?

France is a major player in the global pharmaceuticals industry, as we can see from the amounts continuously being invested by the sector in France. In part, this is due to the high number of highly qualified graduates we have in the life sciences, in addition to the many clusters that enable companies to work within close geographic networks comprising universities and the local ecosystem. It is not by chance that Lilly has chosen to invest heavily here for over 50 years, and specifically in Fegersheim given the prominence of the University of Strasbourg, the proximity to Germany, and because Alsace is traditionally research-oriented.

The attractiveness of France as a place in which to invest will only likely grow, given the French government’s ambition to be a technology leader, as exemplified by the commitment to digital health and the appointment of a secretary of state dedicated to digital. With patient needs evolving towards more complex treatments, health initiatives must integrate digital transformation and connected medicine – and France has understood this. Lilly’s ambitions in digital mirror these: we want our plant at Fegersheim to be at the forefront of connected care and digital health for Lilly at a global level and are investing to meet this ambition.

3. How would you rate patient access in France to new and exciting innovations?

A major pillar of the healthcare system in France is equality of access to treatment for citizens. It is a message that appears to have resonated. According to a Lilly survey, French citizens believe their access to medicines is better than the European average.

The access decision is done on a National level which helps ensure that patients will be treated equally wherever they are on the French territory. After EU Marketing Authorization (MA), the new drug is evaluated clinically by the HAS (Haute Autorité de Santé) and the price is negotiated between the pharmaceutical company and the Economic committee.

The reality of the aging population and the number of new innovations coming into the market is weighing economically on the system. We need to be conscious about that. But at the same time, this should not be a hurdle for ensuring quick access for patients to innovative medicine while ensuring a price that rewards innovation and scientific breakthroughs.

Therefore, we are continuously working with the Authorities to improve the time to market after MA at the EU level but also maintaining a dialogue on how to make sure we can reward innovation at a fair price.

4. What is Lilly France looking for in the next EU mandate?

In next 5 years, Europe will be able to shape policy on fundamental issues like industrial strategy, healthcare – including digital health and cancer care, research, innovation, trade, and competitiveness. The cornerstone of all that we do is intellectual property rights and incentives. We want to see Europe leading pharmaceutical discovery and development, with modern manufacturing and delivering the treatments that patients need. We should grasp the opportunity by continuing to expand efforts to improve joint research involving multiple countries. And we should work towards regulation governing eHealth that is in line with latest developments. Existing regulation may not be fit for purpose given the new challenges brought by digitalization, for instance. Lastly, we hope that future innovation and scientific breakthroughs in Europe will remain viable in the long-term. A key enabler for all of this is the introduction of a comprehensive EU Life Sciences strategy that harnesses discovery and innovation, diagnostics, devices and digital health to make Europe a global leader in the twenty-first century.

France was the third country in which Lilly set up operations outside the USA, well over 50 years ago (Lilly Japan and Lilly Germany came first). Lilly France currently works across every stage of drug production, from clinical research through to manufacturing.

Our plant at Fegersheim in the Alsace region is specialized in producing injection pens biogenetic medicines in cartridges. Employing over 1,550 people, Fegersheim is one of Lilly’s largest manufacturing plants in the world and the 4th biggest in Alsace. It accounts for 7% of biotechnology jobs in France and exports over 95% of its production.