Bruno Bruins: international cooperation will help get medicine to patients sooner

Today, Minister for Medical Care Bruno Bruins signed an agreement with Lithuanian Minister of Health Aurelijus Veryga pledging to work together more closely on matters of drug evaluation. Under the terms of this agreement Dutch experts from the Medicines Evaluation Board will train their counterparts in Lithuania. Similar agreements have already been made between the Netherlands and other countries, including Malta, Estonia, Latvia, Croatia and Slovenia. This is the first time that such an agreement has been concluded at the level of health minister. Increased cooperation and knowledge-sharing serves to enhance the evaluation of the quality, efficacy and safety of medication at European level and to ensure that patients are given quicker access to new medicines.

‘Pharmaceutical companies sell their medicines around the world,’ said Mr Bruins. ‘The Netherlands is a minor player in this field, but by joining forces with other countries, we can ensure that medication gets to the patients who need it sooner, more cheaply and more safely.’

The impact of Brexit

Before medicines can be sold in Europe, they must be evaluated in terms of their quality, efficacy and safety. This is done at EU level, with one of the 28 national authorities taking the lead. At present the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency handles over 20% of all European drug evaluations. When the UK leaves the EU in 2019, it can no longer perform these evaluations for the EU as a whole, and the other 27 countries will have to take over from the British. The Netherlands has set aside €10 million to ensure that there is sufficient knowledge and capacity available to offset the UK’s departure. These funds are being used to train experts in other countries and strengthen the network of national evaluation authorities. This is necessary in order to prevent delays that could affect when new medicines arrive on the market and become available to patients.

Access to medicine

There is no statutory provision requiring that a particular medication be offered for sale in all EU member states. In many cases companies opt for marketing strategies whereby products are introduced only in those member states that are likely to generate sufficient sales. As a result, many patients, especially in smaller countries like Lithuania, have no access to the drug or must wait for it, sometimes for months or years. The Netherlands would like to put an end to this state of affairs as soon as possible. To this end, under this latest agreement, Lithuania and the Netherlands will become partners. This means that the two countries will work together to broaden market access to certain medicines, so that drugs that are marketed in the Netherlands will also be available straightaway in Lithuania as well.