The European Commission (EC) announced its new strategy to reduce critical medicine shortages in the EU.

This October, the EC is launching the European Voluntary Solidarity Mechanism for medicines which will alert member states of critical medicine needs of another member state, so medicines can be redistributed from the available stock. The European Union will also establish a list of critical medicines by the end of 2023. The agency described this as “the first step to analyse the supply chain of selected medicines by April 2024”, per a 24 October press release. From this, it will ascertain what additional measures are needed.

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The EC’s plans to avoid shortages, come after shortages of different drugs, including antibiotics, last winter. The EU announced steps to mitigate shortages in winter, including the role the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) and the European Medicines Agency will play in the identification of critical antibiotics with anticipated shortages.

The EC also called for more flexibility to allow patients to receive medicines faster, by facilitating the quick authorisation of medicines and extending the shelf-life of certain treatments. The EC will outline further details about this in a dedicated Joint Action in 2024. The agency also announced the of an “EU guidance on procurement of medicines to strengthen security of supply” in early 2024. The organisation will also work to secure antibiotics and treatments for respiratory viruses for next winter.

Alongside these measures, the EC proposed the initiation of a Critical Medicines Alliance which will be operational as part of the European Health Union in early 2024. The agency explained that this would bolster coordination between the EC, EU agencies, national authorities and more to deal with supply chain weaknesses.

The EU has been tackling issues with drug shortages for the past few years with a short supply of cancer and cardiovascular drugs causing problems. A reform of the European Pharmaceutical Legislation, proposed in April 2023, promised to ensure that the EU had a “supply of safe and affordable medicinal products” through measures such as changing the length of drug exclusivity and expedited drug reviews.