Sonia Franck is General Secretary of the Luxembourg Pharmaceutical Association (APL) which brings together innovative industries of the sector in the Grand Duchy. The Covid crisis has reinforced the need for dematerialization and security for all, patients and laboratories alike, including access to care and preventive and curative protocols. A highly connected woman, she gives us a detailed and benevolent analysis of the biotech landscape and its stakes, with a particular emphasis on new techniques that advance the care/patient relationship.
Sonia will moderate a fireside chat on the current regulatory context of the pharmaceutical sector on February 18th. Make sure you register, get your “Silicon” ticket and do not hesitate to ask her your questions.
What is APL?
The name of the association I represent is misleading because under the name of the Luxembourg Pharmaceutical Association, only innovative pharmaceutical companies are grouped together. Our members are legal entities active in the field of medicines for human use in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and are also active in the field of pre-clinical research as well as in each of the four phases of clinical research. This represents 57 members ranging from large international groups to SMEs and startups. In order to guarantee the interests of these different profiles, they are all represented on the Board of Directors.
What are the objectives of the APL and the means you wish to implement?
The APL aims to give Luxembourg’s population access to the most innovative medicines and has set itself the mission of promoting the best health care by encouraging therapeutic innovation in the field of medicines for human use in Luxembourg. To represent and defend the ethical and material interests of the pharmaceutical industry in Luxembourg, we would like to be the trusted partner, knowledgeable about the health ecosystem in the broadest sense and to be more integrated in the discussion and consultation bodies.
Our members are a pool of talents, experiences and experts. To achieve our ambitious goals, we have set up task forces on key topics such as market access, value proposition and communication.
Bringing together industries and startups is not new. Digital has become a standard. Agility is a necessity. What specific technologies developed in Luxembourg are likely to interest your members? What are some examples?
Through the specialties of our members all subjects, all pathologies are studied. Also, more than a specific development at this stage, I would prefer to talk about effectuation. Let’s look at the resources available in Luxembourg and let’s act according to these resources. The idea of “crazy patchwork” in building bridges between startups and industry corresponds to my vision. A result is never known in advance and depends on the people who add value to the project. This principle shows that any entrepreneurial project is emergent, evolutionary, the fruit of interaction and this is how I see collaboration with the innovative pharmaceutical industry.
What are your links with the Luxembourg Health Tech cluster and the House of Biohealth?
We know each other and are starting to think about collaboration. We had planned a visit of the members of the APL to the House of Biohealth in order to think together about collaborations. The new travel restrictions within our members’ companies forced us to postpone this working day.
We are also in contact with the Luxembourg Health Tech Cluster in order to propose common webinar topics between the companies, startups of this network and the members of the APL.
What advantages does Luxembourg have to achieve this?
Luxembourg is an innovative, open, dynamic and reliable country in the heart of Europe. It offers unique opportunities such as access to business decision-makers, easy communication with public authorities, a digital agenda among the priorities for the government, an international environment, proximity to Germany, Belgium, France and thus unparalleled pragmatism. In addition to GDP, Luxembourg’s economy is the most open in Europe and one of the most open in the world.
By choosing health sciences and technologies among the sectors to be promoted, by creating the Luxembourg HealthTech Cluster and the House of BioHealth, Luxembourg is clearly announcing its ambitions to further develop the sector and strengthen its capacities at the international level. The country has set up internationally renowned research institutes (LIH, LCSB…) which are still partially unknown to the innovative industry.
Like steel, banks, funds, I like to dream of a future where the innovative pharmaceutical industry could play a role and be a partner of the country.
Our wish is to work with the Luxembourg authorities, and in particular with the FAMHP, to establish Luxembourg’s place and give it a competitive advantage in the European regulatory network, thus increasing its attractiveness for companies in the biomedical sector. All of the assets listed above have the potential to enable the FAMHP to become a standard, a leader at the European level. We firmly believe in this ambition and are ready to play our part in attracting, stimulating and succeeding in innovation.
Beyond innovation, and the pioneering role that Luxembourg could play in it, the speed of Luxembourg’s decisions can play a role in attracting and accelerating the population’s access to the latest revolutionary treatments.
You recently talked about “societal mission” in relation to innovation in drug research. How has the health crisis we are going through accelerated the need for a paradigm shift for the pharmaceutical industry?
Through innovation and research, we continue our efforts to provide Luxembourg residents with an improved quality of life and better healthcare. Our efforts in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic prove how motivated we are and it is this motivation that we need to highlight to the general public.
The health crisis has highlighted several key points, such as the fact that health is an individual right and at the same time a collective good: it should be seen as an investment and less as a cost. The innovative pharmaceutical industry devotes considerable resources to Research and Development (on average 10% of turnover and 25% for some members), an effort that is entirely self-financed by companies.
The action of the innovative pharmaceutical industry is measured for patients in terms of survival, quality of life and for society through economic benefits such as reduced absenteeism, productivity, participation in the creation of value for the country and payment of taxes.
This research, this science that resonates in the lives of each of us is a mission. We can be proud of the work we do every day for patients and to let them know we will be participating in a great “Resonance” campaign featuring Netsky! the biopharmaceutical industry campaign that resonates in our lives.
Why are pharmaceutical research and innovative treatments (such as gene therapies) so expensive?
All new drugs introduced to the market are the result of long, costly and risky research. By the time a drug reaches the market, an average of 12-13 years will have passed since the first synthesis of the new active substance.
The cost of research and development of a new chemical or biological entity costs these companies an average of nearly $2.5 billion. On average, only one to two out of every 10,000 substances synthesized in the laboratory pass all the development steps necessary to become a marketable drug. Gene therapies are no exception to this long and costly journey. These treatments are used to treat serious and rare diseases affecting about 1 in 17 people, some 30 million people in the EU Member States. Vaccines are not the only applications of gene therapies. In the near future, we will be able to detect people at risk of developing an inherited disease, predict cancers 10 years in advance! This incredible progress will make it possible to start surgery very early, even before the disease has actually developed.
Medicines constitute the smallest part of healthcare costs with, on average, 19.5% of total healthcare expenditure in Europe and 8.8% in Luxembourg (out-of-hospital medicines, CNS 2021 figures) spent on pharmaceuticals and other medical goods. In expensive diseases such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, drugs still account for less than 10% of the total cost of illness.
Apart from severe or fatal illnesses, some patients prefer to turn to natural medicines rather than the bigpharma industry. This is a trend accentuated by the pandemic, with the filigree idea of prevention rather than cure (nutrigenomics, micronutrition…) At the moment, there is rather a gap between these two approaches… Do you think that a dialogue or even collaborations are appropriate?
The pandemic has been accompanied by a widespread awareness of the importance of health. The multiplication of trackers and applications of all kinds for monitoring individual parameters or nutrition are just a few examples. All these elements are part of a form of prevention.
For me, it is not a question of a gap but of evolutions, of complementary approaches which should not take over the role of the doctor. It is much more appropriate to have a system that prevents, instead of paying for drugs. The industry would work to match the right patient with the right product. If someone can be helped by preventing a chronic disease, then we should definitely contribute to that. The industry is already working on prevention topics such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or cancer prevention.
Ensuring adequate support to integrate prevention into the health strategy is a political choice that also gives early access to innovative treatments to citizens or strengthening the ecosystem to attract new health technologies. A choice that Luxembourg seems to have made and that we wish to support.
The pharmaceutical industry therefore still has a bright future ahead of it…
Yes, because let’s not forget that the innovative pharmaceutical industry has contributed to the reduction of many diseases. For example, in the field of cardiovascular diseases, the mortality rate has dropped by 45% since 2000. And in the field of diabetes, 70 new treatments have been launched on the market over the last 20 years. This has resulted in a major improvement in the quality of life of patients.
Finally, HIV is now a chronic – and no longer fatal – disease that can be cured with drugs. Approximately 90% of patients treated can lead a normal working life and thus contribute to the country’s economy.
The introduction of the EU Orphan Regulation in 2000, as well as scientific progress, has led to a wave of new treatment options for patients with rare and orphan diseases. These serious conditions affect about 1 in 17 people, some 30 million people in the EU Member States. Since this regulation, more than 160 orphan drugs have been approved by the European Medicines Agency.
There is a lot of talk about collaboration at all levels. In this period of change – which is also a period of opportunity – the patient is again at the center of the debate. How can the innovative industry give them back their rightful place?
Putting science at the service of everyone’s life is the main objective of our sector.
Healthcare is changing, and it must benefit patients. One of the ways to restore the patient’s place is to involve them in all stages of drug development.
Industry and healthcare professionals collaborate on a range of activities, from clinical research to the sharing of best practices and the exchange of information on how new drugs fit into patients’ lives.
Beyond restoring its place in the research process, the industry is also working on its transparency, ethics and deontology. Thus, a binding code of ethics obliges all members of the APL to be transparent about the amounts allocated to healthcare professionals, but also to limit interactions with physicians in a purely scientific framework for the benefit of patients.
A few examples of health fields and services that the Tech has already begun to metamorphose…
Digital evolution is enabling the move towards efficient, data-driven health systems. Currently, innovative health industries are working on projects such as :
- Optimized diagnosis: Radiology departments are using artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize diagnosis.
- Enhanced monitoring: “smart” inhalers monitor medication use by asthma patients
- Remote engagement: Specialist physicians provide advice to patients and colleagues from a distance learning setting.
- Connected data: Clinics securely share critical patient information to improve patient care
- Ongoing feedback: Outcome data is pooled to extract real information about how interventions add value.
- Technology delivery: UAV technology is used to deliver medicines to remote areas in times of crisis.
- Improving efficiency: Blockchain technologies are at work to increase efficiency across global supply chains to accelerate the time to manufacture and deliver drugs to patients.
- Groundbreaking research: Clinical trial data from around the world is shared across borders to accelerate the development of new, safe and effective drugs.