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Improving European health care

European university hospitals in dialog with the EU

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EUHA discusses the next steps

How can Europe work together to overcome the pandemic? How can digital health data be used to improve health care? How do we pool research expertise and research resources in order to speed up medical innovation? These were some of the issues discussed and agreed upon at the recent General Assembly of the European University Hospital Alliance (EUHA), an association representing Europe’s nine leading university hospitals. The meeting, which was held online due to the current pandemic, saw the EUHA partners map out a way forward.

Prof. Kroemer signs the Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of EUCCAT | Photo: Wiebke Peitz / Charité

Developing and strengthening cross-European partnerships

Coinciding with Charité’s Presidency of the EUHA, the past six months have been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The EUHA partners held regular videoconferences throughout this period to discuss ways to manage the current health crisis. In his opening remarks at last week’s EUHA General Assembly, Charité’s Chief Executive Officer, Prof. Dr. Heyo K. Kroemer, emphasized the importance of cross-European collaboration during the current pandemic: “Both the collaboration with our European partners and the sharing of expertise and knowledge have been of enormous help to us in our efforts to manage the pandemic,” he said, adding: “At the same time, we were able to position ourselves as a valuable partner to the EU Commission. This enabled us to put forward our recommendations to a range of expert panels which include EU stakeholders.” Looking to the future, Prof. Kroemer said: “We look forward to further strengthening these relationships over the next few months and, going beyond the important subject of fighting the pandemic, we also look forward to taking an active role in shaping larger projects such as the digitalization of European health care for the benefit of all patients.”

Utilizing EUHA expertise to manage the pandemic

One of the guests invited to the EUHA meeting was the EU Commission’s Director-General for Health and Food Safety, Sandra Gallina. She emphasized that she would be counting on the combined expertise of the EUHA in her efforts to establish comprehensive, EU-wide programs and further develop European health care systems – with a particular focus on managing the pandemic. She also asked the EUHA for its recommendations on a range of issues, including the use of testing strategies and quarantine measures the management of intensive care capacity, and the development and distribution of a potential vaccine. Further plans include strengthening the collaboration between European university hospitals and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) as well as other national institutions such as - in the case of Germany – the Robert Koch Institute. The newly created COVID Task Force, which enables experts from EUHA partner institutions to come together at short notice to share information and develop recommendations, will advise the EU Commission on measures to fight the pandemic.

Promoting digitalization to support patient-centered medicine

Another issue on the agenda was the digitalization of health care in Europe. According to the EU Commission’s representative, it will be important to include university hospitals in the development of a European Health Data Space in order to reap the full benefit of their expertise and enable rapid progress.  Addressing these challenges is the remit of the EUHA’s ‘Digital Health and Data Network’ working group, whose launch in November 2019 was led by Charité. Its brief includes an exploration of the manner in which European health care systems can utilize clinical data to support innovations within the field of medicine, for instance the use of Patient-Reported Outcome Measures (PRCM) to improve the quality of treatment. However, health care systems must undergo restructuring if they are to generate and process large quantities of clinical data: What steps will need to be implemented in order to pave the way for a European Health Data Space?

Facilitating innovation by consolidating research capability

The Chief Executives of the various EUHA partner institutions also signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the foundation of a European Center for Cell and Gene Cancer Therapy (EUCCAT). A virtual institute, the EUCCAT will aim to pool and consolidate the expertise and resources needed for highly complex research in the field of cell and gene therapy. Explaining the significance of this development, the Dean of Charité, Prof. Dr. Axel Radlach Pries, said: “The innovative potential within this field is enormous. At the same time, however, the manufacture of advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) requires a high level of clinical expertise and immense resources. Collaboration with our European partners will therefore be an important step in speeding up the development of ATMPs in Europe and closing the gap between ourselves, the United States and China.” Prof. Pries also stressed that, thanks to their outstanding research and clinical expertise, university hospitals can play a crucial role in the development of cell and gene therapy.

Charité hands EUHA Presidency to Karolinska

Charité assumed the EUHA Presidency on 1 May 2020. Underpinned by the motto ‘Rebuilding health care post-COVID-19’, Charité (represented by its Chief Executive Officer, Prof. Dr. Heyo K. Kroemer) has been setting the joint health policy agenda for a duration of six months. The EUHA Presidency, which rotates among its members every six months, has now been handed over to Stockholm’s Karolinska Universitetssjukhuset. The EUHA Members’ shared aim is to showcase, consolidate and advance their capability and expertise in the areas of health care provision, research, and teaching. Formed in 2017, the EUHA represents nine of the largest European university hospitals. In addition to Charité, these are: Vall d‘Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus, UZ Leuven, King’s Health Partners in London, Ospedale San Raffaele in Milan, Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris, Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, Karolinska Universitetssjukhuset in Stockholm, the Medical University of Vienna and Vienna General Hospital.