By Leo Cendrowicz, AuntMinnie.com contributing writer

October 16, 2013 -- BRUSSELS - EU officials have vowed to work more closely with the medical imaging community to help roll out personalized medicine over the coming years. At a round-table gathering in the European Parliament on 15 October, officials acknowledged that breakthroughs in technology, including genetic sequencing, presented medical opportunities too important to ignore.

The European Commission, the EU's executive body, signaled that personalized medicine would soon shoot up the policy agenda. Tapani Piha, who heads the Unit for e-Health and Heath Technology Assessment in the commission's Directorate General for Heath and Consumers, said personalized medicine fit the EU's approach. "We feel that empowering patients is essential. It is about making healthcare sustainable," he said.

Piha said clear dialogue with the business and research sectors was the key to ensuring the technology is successfully implemented. "It is important to speak the same language and break down the silos," he said. "We need the right tools. The knowledge needs to be translated into applications." But Piha said the EU could only set up broad policy priorities in research and health, and he appealed to researchers to propose specifics ways of addressing them. "We are describing a challenge, and it is up to the research community to come up with an answer."

Guy Frija and Biljana Borzan
Flying the flag for radiology: ESR president Dr. Guy Frija joined Croatian MEP Biljana Borzan on the podium at the Brussels event.

Dr. Guy Frija, president of the European Society of Radiology (ESR) and co-chair of the Brussels meeting, said a first, crucial step had been taken in bringing the issues of personalized medicine and imaging into the EU's sightline. "It is important to convey this information to politicians, otherwise they will be advised only by people coming from other sectors, who are not always well informed on the issue," he said. "We have huge difficulties in convincing our colleagues to integrate imaging with medicine, yet today we saw that the EU was convinced. My feeling is that the EU is open."

Frija said personalized medicine is "a major challenge for our society and Europe," adding that its advent is "a consequence of the human genome program, and of affordability of DNA sequencing at low cost and high speed." He compared personalized medicine with Google logarithms, which can now profile users on the basis of previous searches. "We need to do like Google does, but for personalized medicine," he said.

Frija reckons one of the keys to personalized medicine was the building of so-called omics -- molecular techniques like genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics. "Do we need a specific EU plan to address these new issues? Yes, because nobody has a response for everything. The challenge will be supported by a combination of every stakeholder."

Guy Frija
"We need to do like Google does, but for personalized medicine," Frija noted.

Croatian MEP Biljana Borzan, who hosted the parliament event, said the development of new medicines went hand in hand with new challenges, "and this is often undervalued by policy makers." She described the promise of personalized medicine and new imaging techniques as "fascinating technological wonders that offer immeasurable benefits for patients and society." Borzan, a medical graduate, acknowledged personalized medicine is currently very expensive, but predicted it would become a major area within radiology, after x-ray, CT, MRI, and ultrasound.

She was echoed by Maria Da Graça Carvalho, the Portuguese MEP who co-drafted the European Parliament's report on the EU's forthcoming seven-year research program, Horizon 2020. A former Portuguese science minister, she inserted a specific amendment in the report calling for more research into personalized medicine in Horizon 2020. "We need to pay more attention to this area of research," she said.

Erik Briers, PhD, secretary of Europa Uomo, the European Prostate Cancer Coalition, also welcomed personalized medicine, saying that one of the biggest problems for cancer patients is overtreatment. "This overtreatment is because of a lack of information," he said.

Magda Chlebus, director of science policy at the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), underlined the need for all the stakeholders to work together to address all the challenges of personalized medicine. "This is not just about having a great scientific discovery -- we need to implement it," she said. "We call on policymakers to help us set a framework for this."

Her message was reinforced by Dr. Aad van der Lugt, the chairman of the ESR's Working Group on Personalized Imaging and a radiologist at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, who called on the EU to help set the standards for imaging biomarkers, and to help develop advanced imaging biomarkers.

The round table was organized by the ESR in collaboration with the European Alliance for Personalized Medicine (EAPM).


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