The European Commission on Tuesday started a process that could lead to reforms of drug manufacturing to limit shortages of vaccines and antibiotics and make medicines more easily available.
The move comes as the European Union continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, an effort that has exposed some healthcare shortcomings and the bloc's dependence on foreign supplies of essential drugs and chemicals, mostly from India and China.
The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic clearly demonstrates the need to modernize the way the EU ensures access to medicines for its population, an EU Commission document said on Tuesday, listing shortages and unequal access to medicines as the main issues to address.
The document seeks feedback from the public on possible reforms of rules on clinical trials, marketing of medicines and their production and distribution in Europe.
The 27-nation bloc has long experienced shortages of medicines, and the COVID-19 crisis worsened its predicament as global supply chains were disrupted while supplier countries temporarily curbed exports of some drugs.
Antibiotics, cancer medicines and vaccines are cited in the document as essential items which are often in short supply in Europe, a problem likely to worsen as the bloc has insufficient lab capacity to produce the huge amounts of vaccine doses that will be needed if a COVID-19 shot is developed.
The overhaul, whose details are due by the end of the year, will review incentives and requirements for pharmaceutical companies to place new drugs on the market and ensure their supply. Brussels proposed last week a budget of 9.4 billion euros (US$10.5 billion) until 2027 to underpin these reforms .
Among possible changes, information on medicines could be increasingly provided online or on multilingual packs to address bottlenecks in their distribution. The EU could also try to curb differences in drug prices, which are set at national level.