EC under fire for making medicines industrial, not health issue

LONDON, Sept 12 (Reuters) - New European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker came under fire from health campaigners on Friday for his plan to shift responsibility for medicines to the Commission’s industrial division from health.

Juncker announced earlier this week the proposal to move the supervision of medicines and health technology from the directorate general (DG) for Health and Consumers to the DG for Enterprise and Industry as part of a broad reallocation of portfolios.

The supervision of medicines is a hot topic in Europe, following a series of rows over access to clinical trial data, which lobbyists say should be freely available so that doctors can properly assess safety and effectiveness.

Health Action International, a non-profit group critical of many drug industry practices, said it was “appalled” by Juncker’s plan, arguing it would put the profit-driven interests of companies at the heart of European policymaking on medicines.

The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) and the European consumer organisation BEUC were also critical of a decision they said would put public interests behind commercial ones in drug authorisation procedures.

“This is a potential disaster,” said EPHA president Peggy Maguire, who noted that outgoing European Commission President Manuel Barroso had transferred pharmaceuticals to Health in 2009 to ensure a greater focus on public health interests.

The position of the European Medicines Agency - Europe’s equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - is a particular concern of critics, although a spokesman for the London-based watchdog said its role would not change.

“Clearly, we’ve not been involved in the decision to move the portfolio but it doesn’t change our role, which is to provide independent science-based opinions and advice to the Commission and the member states,” said Martin Harvey Allchurch.

Richard Bergstrom, director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, representing drug manufacturers, said he was confident the change would not affect the impartiality of EU regulation.

“I trust the people in these units have the integrity to continue to put patient safety first,” he said. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Greg Mahlich)