Padraic Ward, Head of Pharma International at Roche, talks about his vision for healthcare and the opportunities and challenges for Europe.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus some of the limitations of our current healthcare systems. What do you think are the lessons learnt?

COVID-19 has clearly highlighted the need for us to rethink how we provide care. Many families are paying a terrible cost during this crisis and it is good that conversations about the learnings and the opportunities are taking place both within EU institutions but also at the country level.

In terms of lessons learnt, there are a few things that stand out. We need to make sure everyone is insured against ill health, that our investments in public health are used efficiently and where possible we need to shift healthcare away from hospitals, towards homes and communities. We also need to encourage more collaboration between countries to limit the risk of protectionism. In this same spirit, we need to start establishing the systems, agreements and protections required for us to capture data at scale, and to use it to generate insights which inform our response.

The European Commission recently held a public consultation on its Pharma Strategy. How do you see the path ahead?

We believe there is a need to establish a really bold new approach for Europe. Healthcare solutions are becoming more personalised and integrated with increasing potential for cure. To ensure Europe benefits from this progress, we need to future-proof our systems – establishing the governance, the infrastructure and the close collaborations needed to untap these new opportunities.

What are the opportunities and challenges?

There are many things working in Europe’s favour – the size of the population, strong academic institutions, established healthcare infrastructure, and – still – solid investment levels. But there are also things holding it back – the absence of a holistic healthcare agenda, the inflexibility and fragmentation of regulatory and reimbursement systems, delays and restrictions in access to innovation, and the lack of preparedness for emerging personalised and integrated healthcare solutions.

In the past Europe was the epicentre of clinical research and development, but over the past two decades this has changed. There is substantially intensified competition for life-science research, development and manufacturing investments, and an increasing innovation gap between the EU and US, which also has an impact in terms of patient access.

What are the risks?

Well, from an economic perspective such dynamics risk investment channeling from Europe to other places, and with it knowledge, jobs, taxation and more. And from a patient perspective we risk seeing fewer opportunities to participate in clinical research, slower access to new healthcare solutions and increasing demand for care as life expectancies increase and the prevalence of chronic conditions rises.

There is another way though, one that sees Europe lean into its innovative heritage and re-emerge as a global medical innovation power-house, delivering more health benefits to EU patients, while reducing overall costs to society and strengthening the economy.

What would need to happen to realise this vision?

In order for Europe to remain competitive, and in turn for the citizens of Europe to continue benefiting from innovation in healthcare, we need to work together to tackle these challenges. They are not insurmountable but they will take coordinated effort. Overall we need to make sure we maintain a European system that rewards and stimulates innovation ().

You recently said that we are committed to 'way more innovation at a way lower cost to society' – how will we make this happen? Can you share some concrete ideas?

We have a long history of developing and delivering breakthrough medicines that have made a meaningful difference to the lives of millions of people worldwide. But in today’s world there is more we can and must do. We’re investing more in R&D than ever and are making sure these investments go even further to provide shorter, more powerful treatments that not only improve outcomes, but ideally cure. We’re ensuring patients can access the right care when needed. And we’re looking at the entire health ecosystem to identify opportunities to prevent disease, improve human health and reduce inefficiencies. Access to new types of data and their use will play a key role here.

What will be the single biggest challenge for Roche in the next few years?

Ensuring all patients benefit from the tremendous advances taking place in personalised healthcare. I truly believe we have the opportunity to both improve outcomes and to make our systems more efficient and sustainable, but I don’t believe it will be easy.

What do you enjoy most in your current role?

I really enjoy the very varied nature of my job, and the ability to influence the long-term future of how we will provide value to patients, HCPs and healthcare systems around the world.

What frustrates you most?

Negativity. I always want to be realistic, and value hearing opinions that are different to mine. I also recognise that there are many things in the world that need to be addressed and changed. At the same time, I find it a pity that in today’s world critical and negative voices seem to be amplified more than positive ones.

What do you value most about the Roche culture?

I appreciate the laser-like focus on doing what’s best for patients and the fact that this trumps all other considerations, in the belief that if we do what’s right for patients, that will be best for Roche too.

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