One thing we can be certain of is that while everyone expects the future to be a slightly modified version of the present, it usually ends up being very different. Few people anticipated the 2008 economic crisis and even fewer (if any) anticipated the outbreak of the pandemic that has defined our lives and wreaked havoc on the global economy over this past year.
Historically, the countries that bounce back quickly after a crisis are the ones that are technologically literate (if not advanced), have invested in production capabilities and have established a footprint in resilient industries. For Greece, the fact that we score(d) low in these three categories—underpinned by the spike in populism that we experienced during the financial crisis—has been the main reason behind our economy’s extremely low recovery rate since 2011.
One year into the Covid-19 crisis, it seems we are halfway to developing a robust plan on how to generate growth as we approach the end of the pandemic. How do we make sure that our plan focuses on the right areas? Simple: Follow the money.
During GES 2020, I hosted a discussion with the local CEOs of two of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies and one of the largest local pharma manufacturers. They all agreed that the life sciences industry is where Greece should be looking to attract investments. We all agreed that in the next few years, global organizations, the EU, big pharmaceuticals and private equity funds will invest an immense amount of money in R&D. Whether these investments come in the form of clinical trials and development of new drugs and vaccines or in terms of upgrading production capabilities, Greece is well positioned to play a pivotal role in the EU and absorb its fair share of these funds.
Currently Greece is under-absorbing clinical trials investments; out of the €36 billion spent in the EU on clinical trials, we get about €50 million—about half of what Cyprus is receiving. Industry experts insist that our fair share is more than 8 or 10 times what we currently get. This translates to half a billion euros annual investments, mostly foreign funds. These investments could fund public hospitals and universities and create thousands of jobs for doctors and medical personnel, thus supporting our health system which has traditionally been a financial black hole.
So, if Greece scores high on the fundamentals—well-educated doctors, good universities, acceptable cost levels, etc.—why have we so far been unable to attract investments in this field? What factors that influence clinical trials country selection in Europe does Greece score low on? The answer is the lack of a clearly defined framework, the time needed to secure approvals and, most importantly, the overall desire—or lack thereof—to attract such investments.
According to SFEE, for Greece to become an attractive destination for clinical trials, we must create a research orientation in the health structures, focus on efficiencies at the hospital level and ensure a smooth flow of procedures at all levels even when the complexity is high.
We are taking steps in the right direction, and we have raised our profile in terms of forming an appealing alternative to clinical trials. We need to introduce additional incentives for companies to migrate their clinical trials to Greece and we must also reduce bureaucracy and streamline the relevant processes/approvals as this has become a very competitive sector internationally.