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Press release: UN General Assembly hosted personalised medicine forum

Publication date: 26.09.2016

New York,  26 September: The former European Commissioner for Health, David Byrne, has told a high-level forum at the UN that access for patients to medicines that efficiently treat illness must be addressed on a global scale.Byrne is co-chair of the Brussels-based European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM), which held key meetings last week (Friday) at the 71st United Nations General Assembly in New York, US.

The Alliance’s event, organised in conjunction with the Irish and Austrian Permanent Missions to the UN, was held on the morning of 23 September, taking the form of a high-level workshop ahead of further discussions in the afternoon. 

Topics covered at the event - called ‘Taking Stock – The role of science to realise a healthier world’ - included health literacy and guidelines, clinical trials and data protection, and the implementation of genomics into healthcare systems.

Speakers included the second Alliance co-chair Professor Gordon McVie, who represented EAPM alongside former Commissioner Byrne and executive director Denis Horgan. 

Also speaking at the EAPM event were Marisa Papauluca, who is Senior Scientific Advisor, Human Medicines Research & Development Support Division, at the European Medicines Agency, alongside E. Abrahams, President of the Personalised Medicine Coalition and  A. Dickinson, Senior Vice, President of Strategic Initiatives, lllumina.

These were joined by K. Paranjape, General Manager Life Sciences and Analytics, Health Strategy and Solutions Group at the Intel Corporation, Jan-Eric Litton, Director General BBMRI-ERIC and  Steve Canfield, Guidelines Office Board, at the European Association of Urology.

Others present and addressing the audience were representatives from both Permanent Missions, and the Universities of Belfast and Graz.

Speaking to media ahead of the meeting, Byrne said: “There is currently a lot of optimism around personalised medicine, but plenty still remains to be done to turn the potential into reality.”  

The importance of access to medicines and innovative treatments is undergoing particular scrutiny at the moment, and many stakeholders firmly believe that access for patients to medicines that efficiently treat illness is one of several important issues that must be addressed on a global scale,” he added.  

The former commissioner added: “Among other things, worldwide, there is a need to create a regulatory environment which allows early patient access to novel medicines and treatments. 

Meanwhile, there is also a need for greater collaboration between all of our countries in areas such as data sharing, a removal of the silo mentality between different medical disciplines, the solving of inter-operability issues and up-to-the-minute training for those in the front-line of healthcare delivery.

Byrne added: “Medicine should be all about the patients and this will entail better communication on the part of healthcare professionals to truly allow each patient to share equally in decision-making about his or her own treatment, wherever they are in the world.”

After the EAPM-hosted event, the Friday afternoon saw a seminar entitled ‘Science for Development’, which explored how to support the potential contribution of science and innovation to policies aimed at addressing global challenges and, specifically, how science can support the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals by presenting key cases, such as examples of research infrastructures and capacity building.

On top of this, the afternoon seminar examined the enabling policy and regulatory environment for enhancing science cooperation at a global level. 

Special focus was placed on how big data will enable science in a global development context.

Speakers presented relevant research infrastructures and examples of capacity building for achieving the SDGs and examined the enabling policy and regulatory environment for enhancing science cooperation and collaboration at a global level.

In particular the seminar looked at how a UN Science Data Cloud could be developed to support data-enabled science aligned with related global initiatives. 

The audience primarily consisted of policy- and decision-makers involved in science, scientists and industry collaborators. The seminar will also include a panel discussion which will examine potential policy options.

Prof. McVie said: “The idea of sharing genetic and other information across the planet may seem a long way away (and there are certainly considerable barriers), but the technology, science and communications platforms are all falling into place. As is the will.

“Although it is a slow process at the moment in many countries, and even harder to coordinate effectively across continents, the dream of personalised medicine for all, regardless of what country they live in and their personal circumstances, is certainly one worth pursuing.”

Denis Horgan, Executive Director, meanwhile, said: “President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative has certainly reflected what’s been happening elsewhere on the planet, certainly in Europe, where the science and philosophy underpinning personalised medicine are progressing at a staggering rate. 

“Personalised or precision medicine is a fast-moving field that sees treatments and medicines tailored to a patient’s genes, as well as his or her environment and lifestyle.” 

University of Belfast’s Mark Lawler added: “In a nutshell, personalised medicine aims to give the right treatment to the right patient at the right time, and can also work in a preventative sense. 

“The cutting-edge technology is marching on and seems unstoppable. Therefore, now is the time to take the message to a global audience. I cannot really think of any place better to begin than at the 71st General Assembly of the United Nations.”

Author: Denis Horgan
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