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WHO tells pharma to research drugs for older people

Says industry R&D changes just as important as updating healthcare systems

World Health Organization WHO flag

The World Health Organization (WHO) wants pharmaceutical companies to put more of their research efforts into medicines for older people.

Its Priority medicines for Europe and the world 2013 update report, which builds on a 2004 publication, says that for the first time EU countries have more people over 65 years of age than under 15 years of age, and drug R&D needs to adapt as much as healthcare systems to address this ageing population.

With this increase in elderly people comes a great prevalence of such age-related conditions as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, said the WHO, noting that more investment in research and innovation was need to bridge pharmaceutical 'gaps'.

These include situations where current treatments for a disease or condition may soon become ineffective, are not appropriate for the target patient group, do not exist, or are not sufficiently effective.

“Despite an over three-fold rise in spending on pharmaceutical research and development in Europe since 1990, there is an increasing mismatch between people's real needs and pharmaceutical innovation,” explained Nina Sautenkova, a programme manager for health technologies and pharmaceuticals in the WHO's European region.

“We must ensure that industry develops safe, effective, affordable and appropriate medicines to meet future health needs.”

The rise of co-morbidities in elderly people was also mentioned by the WHO, which commented that current research and treatment guidelines were disease-driven rather than patient-centred, and only small-scale trials of combination therapies had been undertaken.

“We need the investment in large-scale trials to have the evidence to see if we can get the right formulations and make this work in practice to save more lives,” said Kees De Joncheere, director of WHO's Essential Medicines and Products department.

This aligns with comments from the Professor David Haslam, new chair of the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), who commented in an interview with PMLiVE that healthcare guidance needs to evolve from addressing a single disease.

Europe's health systems are set to be hit hard by its ageing population, and the updated WHO report was requested by the European Commission to use as part of the planning process for its €80bn Horizon 2020 programme to boost research, innovation and competitiveness in the EU.

This is in addition to plans launched by the EC at the first Conference of Partners of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing in November 2012, which highlight specific areas to address in healthcare, including improved adherence, and use of tele-monitoring schemes.

Also at the top of the agenda is the potential for eHealth in the region, with the EC's Neelie Kroes commenting in May this year that it has “huge potential” to help Europe cope with its ageing population.

18th July 2013

From: Research, Healthcare



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