European Commission has invited more than 200 blood-collection services around the EU to apply for funding for the purchase of plasmapheresis equipment, i.e. equipment that takes plasma from donors. The aim of this action is to support the treatment of new COVID-19 patients who are fighting the disease, by increasing EU capacity to collect convalescent plasma, i.e. plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients. This action is part of the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI). Grants will be provided to public and NGO blood-collection services authorised to collect plasma.
This action demonstrates the Commission’s commitment to developing therapeutics, as specified in the EU health preparedness for possible future outbreaks communication.
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Convalescent plasma could be a promising treatment for COVID-19.With the financing we put forward today, we are able to go a step further in plasma collection and I invite all relevant stakeholders to make use of it. We will continue to explore all possible options to support the development and access to safe and effective treatments for COVID-19 to protect our citizens. This remains our primary objective in the weeks and months ahead.”
The treatment consists of transfusing convalescent plasma to sick patients to boost their immunity and ability to fight the disease. Plasma transfusion is also used to purify antibodies to make a COVID-19 specific medicinal product (immunoglobin) as short-term alternative to vaccines. This product is given as a prophylactic injection to patients, vulnerable persons and healthcare workers, or as a treatment. The efficacy of these treatments is being investigated worldwide, including in an EU research project funded by Horizon 2020. Preliminary results are promising while results from full clinical trials are forthcoming.
These treatments rely on the collection of large quantities of convalescent plasma donated by recovered patients.
At the moment, almost 75% of plasma collected by public blood services and the Red Cross is done via donations of whole blood, from which the plasma is then separated. This is a much less efficient collection method compared with plasmapheresis – a bedside process where plasma is taken from the donor whilst the other blood components are returned to the donor. In case of plasmapheresis, donors can donate higher volumes of plasma at one time and can donate once every 2 weeks compared with once every 3-4 months for whole blood donors. Additionally, ‘super donors’ – donors whose plasma is particularly rich in antibodies – can be asked to give donations many times over a period of months.
The invitation is valid for a month, and has a budget of €40 million funded through the Emergency Support Instrument. The allocation of grants will be done according to the needs expressed by Member States’ blood-collection services
The budget will support the purchase of a number of plasmapheresis machines and associated equipment, including collection kits, storage facilities, the testing and characterisation of plasma and organisational programmes.
Adopted by the Council in April 2020, the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI) allows the EU to provide emergency support addressing the human and economic consequences of a crisis such as the ongoing pandemic.
The ESI supports Member States in their efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic in a strategic and coordinated manner at European level.
In the health area, the ESI is already being used to help address Member States’ ongoing needs and to contribute to preparedness for future outbreaks and a possible second wave. In particular, the ESI is supporting the transport of essential goods, medical teams and patients and is financing a facility to procure essential medical products for stockpiling and/or distribution to Member States.
Under the procurement facility, a contract was signed on 28 July to secure doses of the therapeutic Remdesivir for around 30,000 patients across the EU. Some 10 million masks to protect healthcare workers have also been purchased and delivery through batches is on-going.
A significant part of the budget available under the ESI will be used to secure the production of vaccines in the EU and sufficient supplies for its Member States through Advance Purchase Agreements with vaccine producers, in line with the EU Vaccines Strategy.
Coronavirus: EU Strategy for the development and availability of therapeutics
The European Commission is today complementing the successful EU Vaccines Strategy with a strategy on COVID-19 therapeutics to support the development and availability of much-needed COVID-19 therapeutics, including for the treatment of ‘long COVID’. Today’s Strategy covers the full lifecycle of medicines: from research, development and manufacturing to procurement and deployment.
It is part of the strong European Health Union, in which all EU countries prepare and respond together to health crises and ensure the availability of affordable and innovative medical supplies – including the therapeutics needed to treat COVID-19.
The Strategy includes clear actions and targets, including authorising three new therapeutics to treat COVID-19 by October 2021 and possibly two more by end of the year. Concretely:
- Research, development and innovation
- Invest €90 million in population studies and clinical trials to establish links between risk factors and health outcomes to further inform public health policy and clinical management, including for long-COVID patients.
- Set up a ‘therapeutics innovation booster’ by July 2021 to support the most promising therapeutics from preclinical research to market authorisation. It will build on current initiatives and investments in therapeutic development, working in a close cooperation with the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) preparatory action on mapping therapeutics. It will therefore ensure the coordination of all research projects on COVID-19 therapeutics, stimulating innovation and boosting therapeutic development.
- Access to and swift approval of clinical trials
- Invest €5 million under the EU4Health programme to generate better, high-quality safety data in clinical trials, which will help produce robust results in a timely manner.
- Provide EU countries with financial support of €2 million under the EU4Health 2021 work programme for expedited and coordinated assessments to facilitate approval of clinical trials.
- Explore how to support developers of therapeutics to build capacity to produce high-grade material for clinical trials.
- Scanning for candidate therapeutics
- Invest €5 million to map therapeutics and diagnostics to analyse development phases, production capacities and supply chains, including possible bottlenecks.
- Establish a broader portfolio of 10 potential COVID-19 therapeutics and identify five of the most promising ones by June 2021.
- Supply chains and delivery of medicines
- Fund a €40 million preparatory action to support flexible manufacturing and access for COVID-19 therapeutics under the EU Fab project, which in turn will become over time an important asset for the future the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA).
- Regulatory flexibility
- Authorise at least three new therapeutics by October and possibly two more by the end of the year and develop flexible regulatory approaches to speed up the assessment of promising and safe COVID-19 therapeutics.
- Start seven rolling reviews of promising therapeutics by end-2021, subject to research and development outcomes.
- Joint procurement and financing
- Launch new contracts for the purchase of authorised therapeutics by the end of the year.
- Secure faster access to medicines with shorter administrative deadlines.
- International cooperation to make medicines available to all
- Reinforce engagement for the therapeutics pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.
- Boost ‘OPEN’ initiative for international collaboration.
The Commission will draw up a portfolio of 10 potential COVID-19 therapeutics and by June 2021, identify the five most promising ones. It will organise matchmaking events for industrial actors involved in therapeutics to ensure enough production capacity and swift manufacturing. New authorisations, rolling reviews and joint procurement contracts will be up and running before the end of the year.
The therapeutics innovation booster, matchmaking events and preparatory action to support flexible manufacturing and access for COVID-19 therapeutics under the EU Fab project, will feed into the HERA, for which a proposal is due later in the year. The pilot project on access to health data will feed into the European Health Data Space proposal expected later this year.
Members of the College said:
Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “The situation in many intensive care units across the continent remains critical. We need to focus both on vaccines and therapeutics, as two powerful and complementary ways to combat COVID-19. But currently we have only one authorised medicine to treat COVID-19. By acting on better availability of medicines today, we are making sure patients receive the treatments they need while also preparing our future biomedical preparedness. A coordinated strategy on quick access to therapeutics will boost our strategic autonomy and contribute to a strong Health Union.”
Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, said: “Vaccinations save lives, but they cannot yet eradicate COVID-19. We need a strong push on treatments to limit the need for hospitalisation, speed up recovery times, and reduce mortality. Patients in Europe and across the world should have access to world-class COVID-19 medicines. This is why we have set a very clear goal: by October, we will develop and authorise three new effective COVID-19 therapeutics that can have the potential to change the course of the disease. We will do so by investing in research and innovation, the identification of new promising medicines, ramping up production capacity and supporting equitable access. Our Therapeutics Strategy is a strong European Health Union in action.”
Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, said: “By increasing vaccine availability across Europe, more and more Europeans are now protected against COVID-19. In the meantime, the development of innovative medicines to treat coronavirus patients remains a priority when it comes to saving lives. Research and innovation is the first step to finding effective and safe therapeutics, which is why we are proposing to establish a new COVID-19 ‘therapeutics innovation booster’ and will invest € 90 million in population studies and clinical trials.”
The Strategy on COVID-19 therapeutics complements the EU strategy for COVID-19 vaccines from June 2020 and builds on ongoing work by the European Medicines Agency and the Commission to support research, development, manufacturing and deployment of therapeutics.
The Strategy forms part of a strong European Health Union, using a coordinated EU approach to better protect the health of our citizens, equip the EU and its Member States to better prevent and address future pandemics, and improve the resilience of Europe’s health systems.
EU defence gets a boost as the European Defence Fund becomes a reality
Commission welcomes the adoption of the European Defence Fund (EDF), following the European Parliament’s approval. The EDF, with a budget of €7.9 billion, is the Commission’s flagship instrument to support defence cooperation in Europe. EDF will co-finance collaborative research and capability development projects amplifying national investment. It will also foster an innovative and competitive defence industrial base. In doing so, it will enhance Union’s technological sovereignty and therefore its open strategic autonomy.
Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, said: “This is an important step for a stronger Europe. The Fund will play a key role to enable SMEs to participate in defence supply chains and widen cross-border industrial cooperation. Providing opportunities to companies all sizes helps achieving more innovative solutions, to foster an open internal market. So besides a stronger defence cooperation it contributes to our competitiveness.”
Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, said: “Today marks a historic day for Europe. The idea of working together for promoting our Defence Union and for the security of EU citizens is now a tangible reality. In a global context where Europe needs to be stronger, more resilient and more autonomous in strategic areas, the European Defence Fund is a milestone and will significantly contribute to the security of EU citizens.”
A Fund to deepen EU defence industrial cooperation
Without substituting Member States’ efforts, the Fund will promote cooperation between companies of all sizes and research actors throughout the EU, in research and development of state-of-the-art and interoperable defence technology and equipment.
The Fund will support competitive and collaborative defence projects throughout the entire cycle of research and development, focusing on projects that have the potential to be game-changers for the armed forces of Member States. The Fund will foster innovation and incentivise the cross-border participation of SMEs. Projects will be defined based on defence capability priorities agreed by Member States within the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy and particularly in the context of the Capability Development Plan. The projects will aim at contributing to the security and defence interests of the Union.
The EDF allows for the participation of European subsidiaries of third country companies and also for the cooperation with third country companies provided that their involvement ensure the security and defence interests of the EU, and meet the rigorous security conditions as set in the EDF Regulation.
A strong budget for ambitious and inclusive defence programmes
2021 constitutes the first year of the rollout of the new EDF, which will be operational for the period 2021-2027, in alignment with the Multiannual Financial Framework.
It will be endowed with a budget of €7,953,000,000 in current prices. This financial envelope will be divided into two pillars: €2,651,000,000 will be allocated to funding collaborative defence research to address emerging and future security threats and €5,302,000,000 to co-finance collaborative capability development projects.
Up to 4%-8% of the Fund budget is devoted to development or research for disruptive technologies (i.e. technologies that have the potential to create game-changing innovations). This budget represents an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to the development of a competitive and innovative European defence industry.
The complete establishment of the Fund both legally and financially will now allow the Programme Committee (PC), chaired by the Commission and composed of Member States representatives, to discuss priorities and confront topics with the aim to open calls for proposals in summer 2021. The Commission will directly manage the programme. The European Defence Agency (EDA) is invited to participate as observer and the European External Action Service (EEAS) will assist in the Committee.
The creation of a European Defence Fund was first announced in 2016. The Commission presented the first version of the European Defence Fund in June 2017, which has allowed defence cooperation at EU level to embark thanks to two pilot projects, the Preparatory Action on Defence Research (PADR) for 2017-2019 and the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP) for 2019-2020.
The Fund is part of the priorities of the von der Leyen Commission for a ‘Stronger Europe in the World’.
A political agreement between the Member States and the European Parliament was found in December 2020 and today’s decision gives legislative effect to the EDF that will operate for the next 7 years.
Dual-use goods: what are they and why are new rules needed?
The EU is working on new export rules for so-called dual-use goods to prevent them being misused in human rights violations.
What are dual-use goods?
Dual-use products are goods designed for civilian use that in the wrong hands could be used to supress human rights or launch terrorist attacks. They can be anything from drones to chemicals.
Although these goods can improve people’s lives, they can be misused. Authoritarian regimes might use them to keep the population under control, while terrorist groups could use them to stage attacks.
Why are new rules needed?
To prevent dual-use goods being repurposed in ways that violate human rights , the EU wants to make sure strict export rules prevent them being sold to people or organisations wanting to misuse them.
The EU is currently working on an update of the existing rules to take into account recent technological developments, including new cyber surveillance tools, and beef up protection of human rights.
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