Having previously held roles at Lilly in both Italy and the Czech Republic, I’m thrilled by the prospect of working in Europe again. This year is especially important as we look forward to crucial proposals for patients and our industry, including the revision of the EU general pharmaceutical legislation and Europe’s industrial strategy. However, we also face a new crisis as we emerge from COVID restrictions in most countries, a humanitarian one affecting our communities in Ukraine, Russia and across the continent.

Like many companies, Lilly is donating essential medicines and supporting NGOs to help the people of Ukraine. Our European trade association, EFPIA, is working with the European Commission to drive a coordinated response, ensuring urgent medical supplies reach the people who need them, and that support is available for member states as they prepare for the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. We hope for an end to the hostilities and a resolution to this crisis as soon as possible.

Moving back to pharmaceutical innovation, more than ever, opportunities in healthcare are borne out of partnerships and collaboration. I have joined the Board of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), where I, together with industry colleagues, will engage with EU policymakers to ensure that the EU continues to offer an attractive environment for investment and remains globally competitive.

Regulatory reform, strong and predictable Intellectual Property Rights, and faster and equitable patient access are all key to safeguarding Europe’s rich life sciences community and allowing it to keep discovering, developing and delivering the next generation of treatments to improve patient outcomes. They are also essential if Europe is to remain a location of choice for our industry. Lilly’s recent €400 million investment in a fifth European biopharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Limerick, Ireland, is testament to Europe’s appeal. Ireland has a highly skilled, reliable workforce, and has established itself as a centre of excellence in life sciences with close links to communities and universities with strong science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs across the country. Other European countries share these traits, which is why we keep investing now and into the future.

Investing in new manufacturing sites is one example of how pharma creates jobs and stimulates local economies. Another is research. For over 30 years, Lilly has dedicated resources to finding solutions for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, spending over $5 billion. I am extremely proud of our progress to advance the science for this devastating disease. This continued research over three decades was only possible due to the right incentives.

What can Europe do to support investment and research?

With the new Pharmaceutical Strategy, Europe is at a crossroads. Action is needed to accelerate access to innovative medicines for patients – addressing delays between regulatory approval and access at Member State level, and within countries between regions and hospitals. For example, in Italy, it takes an average of 8 months from the time of a national reimbursement decision to patient access, partly due to the requirement for individual contracting with 21 regional health authorities. This contrasts with Germany where new medicines are launched immediately after EMA approval, in parallel with PRA negotiation. This creates significant inequality in access for patients in different parts of Europe, highlighting the need to look at how some non-EU countries have taken action to speed up processes. Although no system is perfect, for example in Israel and Australia the reimbursement process for new medicines runs in parallel to regulatory review.

The European Commission also has a key opportunity through regulatory reform to narrow down the time the EMA takes to review new medicines as compared toother regulatory bodies, notably the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA.)It takes on average 150 additional days for the EMA to review a new medicine compared to the FDA which means European patients are left waiting for critical medicines. Crucially, we need to work together to accelerate the drug review and approval process to speed patient access.

As we emerge from the global pandemic, the EU should seize the opportunity to see biopharmaceuticals as a growth driver, not an area for cost containment. 2022 is set to be an exciting and important period to lead Lilly International and engage at international level. It’s also a key year for health systems across Europe to play catch up to the many patients with non-communicable diseases who were left behind during the pandemic. During the first lockdown in April 2020, the number of people diagnosed with cancer dropped by up to 40% in the Netherlands and Belgium alone,1 which suggests many patients may have missed out on time-critical care.

I look forward to working with my European colleagues to ensure that patients can access the right medicines at the right time, and truly feel the benefits of the unprecedented pace of scientific discovery and medicine development.

1 WHO/Europe | Media centre - Statement – Catastrophic impact of COVID-19 on cancer care