Europe – Who’s calling the shots in European healthcare?

Patients versus Pharma: industry too powerful, and too cosy with EMA, says Yannis Natsis. Yannis Natsis is one of Europe’s most outspoken critics of the pharmaceutical industry and its current relations with the European Medicines Agency, which he says have grown far too close.

He believes that the balance of power in healthcare in the European Union needs to shift, with patients and the public having more say on issues, particularly in regard to transparency in government decision-making and pharma industry price-setting.

Natsis is policy manager for Universal Access and Affordable Medicines at the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), a Brussels-based organisation made up of public health NGOs, patient groups, health professionals and disease groups.

EPHA names improving health and strengthening the voice of public health in Europe as its mission, and sees holding government and big business to account as central to this.

The organisation reflects a well-established strand of left-of-centre politics in Europe, which has traditionally been deeply suspicious of pharma, and over the years has opposed any EU policies which it believes could hand power to the industry at the expense of public health and patients.

Recent years have undoubtedly seen some of the key issues – patents, prices and pharma’s transparency – rise up the agenda. This has been driven by the sector’s shift towards developing more and more orphan medicines – these are often groundbreaking advances for patients, but also carry very high price tags which put a strain on Europe’s healthcare systems.

Yannis said the controversy over Gilead’s hepatitis C drug Sovaldi was a turning point in the European debate, which has only intensified in the last year or two.

“Once upon a time we were dismissed as extremists, communists, activists – but that can’t be said anymore, because the issues we’re concerned about have gone mainstream…