Dhe Covid 19 pandemic is a historic and serious moment for Europe, a moment that shakes the foundations of the European project, be it the free movement of goods or people. The highest priority now is to contain the pandemic as quickly as possible and to protect the health of citizens. Once the pandemic is contained, we need to learn the lessons for our future in a “post-globalized” world. A key question should be: “Can the European Union and its Member States come together and become independent in the field of health?”
Since the onset of the crisis, Sanofi, the health company I head, has been doing everything possible to accelerate research into vaccines and drug treatments. And we are equally committed to maintaining the production and supply of medicines and vaccines for patients in Europe and the world, while protecting the health of our employees.
“We need more Europe”
The spread of the virus has clearly focused on issues that the EU Commission and the Member States should consider strategically important for dealing with future pandemics and health crises. These include crisis preparation, supply autonomy, as well as production capacity and industrial innovation.
Crisis preparation: Building on previous collaborations, Sanofi partnered with the United States Department of Health’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (Barda) a month ago to develop a vaccine against Covid-19. Such a public-private partnership would not be possible in Europe as there is no agency responsible for responding to emerging health threats. The establishment of a European Barda agency could help the continent better deal with future health crises.
Autonomy of care: Covid-19 has aggravated the risk of excessive drug addiction dependency, which could jeopardize care in the event of a crisis. While not related to Covid-19, Sanofi’s recent announcement that it plans to create a leading pharmaceutical company (API) based in France by merging six of its European locations is relevant to the current situation. API are important molecules that are needed for the production of medicines. Our goal is to secure significant API manufacturing and delivery capabilities that are critical to patients in Europe and elsewhere. We need strong political support for such initiatives.
Production capacity and industrial innovation: There is tough global competition. The United States, China or Singapore are currently more attractive for industrial investments. We signed a financial agreement with Barda in December 2019 to increase our flu vaccine production capacity in the United States in the event of a pandemic. Covid-19 makes it clear that the EU member states invest in their production capacities and have to consider this as a question of independence.
However, while additional capacity could benefit all Member States if needed, the production facilities have to be located in one country. Therefore, for example, further exemptions from EU state aid rules could be considered, which allow Member States to support investments in state-of-the-art and digitized facilities. This would ultimately support the continent’s competitiveness at a global level and, more importantly, its ability to respond and innovate in times of crisis.
We need more Europe and a strong impetus from certain Member States. Because Europe’s best chance to compete and thrive in a post-globalized world lies in its ability to get the most out of its internal strengths. We have to keep this idea in mind when it is time to learn from the Covid 19 pandemic and build more resilient health systems. As a leading French, European and global company, we will be ready to do our part and work with companies in the sector, the EU institutions and the Member States to create Europe’s health independence.
Paul Hudson is the CEO of the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi.