Sanofi chief executive Christopher Viehbacher has officially begun his two-year term as president of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, saying that the old continent needs a different approach to healthcare.

Mr Viehbacher, who is taking over the EFPIA reins from GlaxoSmithKline CEO Sir Andrew Witty, called on the European Union, member states and industry to work together, saying that "given the chronic deficits of healthcare systems, we must work differently, build collaborative policies and combine our strengths at both national and European levels". He added that "as we want healthcare to be a growth engine for Europe, our industry must focus on three priorities: patient access, science and innovation and competitiveness".

On the first point, Mr Viehbacher argued that EU countries are implementing different policy approaches, "many of which are aimed at reducing public financing in the short term. Yet, there remains an insufficient evaluation of their impact on access and ultimately on the health status of European citizens. We need to ensure that medical innovation makes its way to the patient".

As for science and innovation, he claimed that currently, pharmaceutical R&D productivity "is far from optimal, at a time when the need for innovation in health has never been greater. We need to support collaborative research and rethink the regulatory and policy framework". With regards to the third priority, Mr Viehbacher noted that the economy in Europe is "stagnant and global competition for investment is intense", so "we must focus on sectors that can drive growth", such as healthcare. He said that in 2012 alone, the R&D-based pharma industry in Europe generated 700,000 jobs, and created a positive trade balance of 80 billion euros.

Concern over clinical data release

Speaking later to journalists (and reported by Reuters), Mr Viehbacher turned his attention to the issue of data transparency. This came after the  European Medicines Agency put out for consultation a draft policy on access (see link).

The Sanofi boss was quoted as saying that if firms are told "that 'we want to cut your prices, we want to take your confidential data and share it with any one of your competitors', you don't get the same feeling of encouragement". He went to say that "if I was to say where would I put the next euro of investment, I would say either the next euro of investment would go to the USA or to emerging markets".

Mr Viehbacher is particularly concerned that any data release would include details on things such as manufacturing which is "often where the know-how of the company is, and this is particularly true of biological processes". He said that "if all of this stuff is laid out, then we could have competitors from any country, particularly outside of Europe, suddenly start looking at our manufacturing process and we could suddenly find ourselves with some non-European competitors".

Joining Mr Viehbacher at the head of the EFPIA board will be two new vice presidents, namely UCB boss Roch Doliveux and Novartis chief Joe Jimenez.