On January 31, 2018, the European Commission adopted a legislative proposal with the aim of strengthening EU cooperation among Member States when conducting a Health Technology Assessment (HTA) of new medicines and certain new medical devices. The European Commission Fact Sheet explains that HTA is a procedure for assessing the added value of new medicines and medical devices, for example, assessing whether a new scanner will lead to a better diagnosis or whether a new surgery will improve the patient’s treatment.

BEUC, the European Consumer Organization, explained in a press release that at the moment, around 50 national and regional HTA authorities provide Member States with clinical data, however, work carried out by one authority is often replicated by another, leading to inefficiency in EU health systems.

The Commission’s proposal establishes four areas of joint work between Member States at EU-level:

  • Joint clinical assessments focusing on the most innovative health technologies with the most potential impact for patients;
  • Joint scientific consultations, or “early dialogue,” whereby developers can seek advice from HTA authorities;
  • Identification of emerging health technologies, commonly referred to as ‘horizon scanning’, to identify promising technologies early; and
  • Voluntary cooperation on other areas.

In a press release, the Commission added that “manufacturers will no longer have to adapt to different national procedures.” Not all work will be done jointly, the Commission’s press release indicates that individual EU countries will continue to be responsible for assessing non-clinical (e.g. economic, social, ethical) aspects of health technology, and making decisions on pricing and reimbursement. Thus, device manufacturers will still need to work with each Member State to determine pricing and reimbursement.

The Commission’s Q&A on the proposal explains that the joint clinical assessments will not affect market approval as they will only occur after the medical devices have obtained a CE mark. The Q&A also notes that HTA does not interfere with the conformity assessments of medical devices.

The Commission asserted in the Q&A that those benefiting from cooperation would include:

  • Patients, who may benefit from a faster uptake of promising innovative technologies;
  • Member States, whose national authorities will be able to pool their expertise and avoid duplication of efforts on clinical assessments, making better use of human and financial resources; and
  • Industry, including SMEs, who will benefit from clearer rules and greater predictability for their business planning, and cost savings.

In a statement to EURACTIV.com, Yannis Natsis, Policy Manager for the European Public Health Association, cautioned:

A European approach must improve on the current system and deliver meaningful innovation and affordable treatments. There must not be the slightest doubt that cooperation would weaken it or make the assessments less rigorous.

A timeline proposed by the Commission indicates that the proposal could be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers in 2019, become applicable three years later, and then have a further three-year transitional period to allow for Member States to phase-in the new system. The Q&A provides an example of a phase-in, suggesting the system could perform 10 to 15 joint clinical assessments in the first year of operation and reach around 65 assessments towards the end of the transitional period. The changes will likely happen after Britain has exited the European Union.