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Press Release: EAPM reaches out to Northern Ireland, announces major 2017 Congress

Publication date: 07.10.2016

Belfast, October 7th, 2016: The Brussels-based European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) held a key meeting in Belfast, Northern Ireland, this week to introduce areas being addressed at EU level in a way that could be integrated into the healthcare system at national level. 

A key objective of the meeting was to engage with stakeholders in Northern Ireland while designing a roadmap for engagement linking to other ‘regional’ stakeholders.

The high-level gathering, entitled Embedding Precision Medicine into Healthcare, also saw the official announcement of a major new Congress to be held in the same city in just over a year’s time (November 2017), also organised by the Alliance. 

EAPM is a broad stakeholder organisation made up of patients, researchers, scientists, academics, healthcare professionals, law- and policy-makers and this week’s event was held at Riddel Hall, Queen’s University Belfast.

It was part of a Clinical Innovation Conference on Precision Medicine held in the Northern Ireland capital and the EAPM meeting’s emphasis was on how to bring about a broad discussion focused on value, system changes necessary in Europe’s healthcare systems, plus education, research and up-to-the-minute genomics.

Also stressed was the over-riding need for more collaboration and cooperation between disciplines and across Member States, as well as developing an effective ‘research roadmap’ for personalised medicine.

The meeting discussed the barriers to the integration of personalised medicine and the most urgent actions that need to be taken. 

Chair of the meeting, the university’s Professor Mark Lawler said: “I was very proud today to have chaired a meeting that reflected EAPM’s on-the-ground SMART Outreach approach. 

“SMART stands for Smaller Member states And Regions Together and Ireland can now expect, through its own stakeholders and those elsewhere, to duplicate and augment the sterling work that EAPM has done at European level here on the Emerald Isle, both sides of the border.”

EAPM’s executive director Denis Horgan, who spoke to attendees regarding EU policy, added: “The event reflected how important our stakeholders see the work we are trying to do in bringing amazing new science, in genetics, IT, imaging and more, to the 500 million potential patients across the EU’s 28 Member States.”

“The goal is to provide the right treatment to the right patient at the right time and, while many obstacles are still out there to be overcome down the line, we are getting ever closer to achieving what modern-day Europe needs in terms of healthcare,” Horgan said.

The event covered topics such as ‘Embedding Precision Medicine in Healthcare: Time to Grasp the Nettle!’ and included perspectives from a patient point of view (by Dr Ian Banks, President, European Men’s Health Forum and Chair of the European CanCer Organisation Patient Advocacy Committee), viewpoints from the bio-industry outlined by Dr Virginia Acha, Executive Director Research, Medical and Innovation at the Association for British Pharmaceutical Industries, and the genetics perspective (from Dr Shane McKee, Consultant in Genetic Medicine, at Belfast City Hospital and the Principal Investigator of the Northern Ireland Genomics Centre).

A question and answer session was included in the session’s events, in order to bring about as much participation as possible among attendees.

Patient advocate Ian Banks said during the forum that: “Patients are more knowledgable than ever before, and also more demanding. They want to share in the decisions made about their own health. At the moment they are, in the main, being ill-served in this regard and there is an urgent need for better access to healthcare, better education of healthcare professionals in modern treatments and better incentives and regulation to get novel medicine to market much more quickly.”

Echoing this, EAPM’s Horgan stated that it is clear that as well as top-down regulation in important areas such as data protection, IVDs, clinical trials and more, a bottom-up process also needs to be employed to make the most of these burgeoning new healthcare opportunities for the benefit of all patients.

He added that the meeting was intended to be a two-way street (or “Giant’s Causeway”, appropriately) linking the European Union to Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland back to Europe.

On that note, Lawler said: “This is a vital ebb-and-flow process that is required at grassroots level in all Member States, and will represent an important step along the road to sharing best practices and deciding actions by consensus.”

Although Brussels-based – which helps to better engage with the European Commission, EU permanent representations and the European Parliament in the ‘Capital of Europe’ – EAPM aims to expand its work with the multi-stakeholder groups, and nations, that form its membership.

After this busy and successful gathering as Professor Mark Lawler outlined, now all eyes in Belfast in the sphere of personalised medicine are looking towards the planned EAPM Congress that the city will host next November, to be held after the Alliance’s fifth annual conference in Spring.

Provisionally titled  Personalising Health: A Global Imperative, each day of the congress will begin with a three-hour plenary session on a particular topic or topics. 

The congress will then break into various symposia on a daily basis which will act as think-tanks, with a last 90-minute plenary in the main hall during which selected think-tanks will report briefly and a Q&A will ensue.

Organisations will be invited to hold their own side meetings/roundtables and industry sponsored sessions in dedicated rooms, while an exhibition hall will also be on site with a view to showcasing the latest developments in technology that are being brought to the personalised medicine arena.

Said Horgan: “Our annual conferences to date have all been hugely successful and have produced demonstrably effective results. The proposed congress will take matters to a whole new level, being held over a longer period and engaging even more stakeholders.”

Author: Denis Horgan
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