Profound Brexit implications for the UK’s Life Science industry

Last week I was hoping to hear Liam Fox speak on ‘Maintaining the UK life sciences’ leading position’ at a Royal Society of Medicine symposium ‘Brexit; the Implications for the UK’s Life Science Industry’.

He cancelled (what an (un)surprise). The implications for academia, industry and the NHS are profound.

Already universities, research institutes and individual researchers are feeling the chill, particularly for long term EU grants.

The government says it will honour any EU funding to 2020, an easy promise as we will still be a member until 2019. They have failed to understand that new grants stretching out beyond 2020 are already being prepared and UK researchers are being excluded from these.

Almost overnight, we have gone from being preferred partners in the top tier of research, to pariahs, liabilities to the success of future funding applications. These are hugely competitive, and success or failure impacts not only on individual scientific careers, but on publications and the ranking of research institutions which in turn drives future funding and success. Individuals will suffer, and institutions wither.

What are we to tell all those 6th formers studying science? Of course, we will re-build, but it will take 20 years, and we shall lose a generation of scientists in the meantime – how do we measure that loss?

For industry too there are some serious challenges.

Most pharmaceutical companies don’t do basic bench science themselves anymore, it’s simply too high risk and too expensive. Instead, it’s done by universities and research institutes, and then companies cherry-pick the most promising leads to take forward, that approach makes the best business sense. For decades the UK has punched above it’s weight in this area, but that will no longer be the case when we are outsiders. The EU naturally prefers research done by EU institutions it makes translation much smoother.

The UK is host to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which licences and regulates all new medical products, this institution will have to move when we leave, most probably to Denmark or Sweden.

UK pharmaceutical companies like GSK and AstraZeneca (AZ) are used to having the inside track for negotiations with the EMA, conveniently situated in central London and staffed in many cases by scientists they already know well and who have worked for them in the past. This close relationship enables them to get their products to a single European market of 500 million patients quickly and smoothly.

Post Brexit, new UK products will be relegated to the second tier whilst EU products are given priority. This will make developing innovative new medicines here less attractive. UK patients will have less opportunity to take part in clinical trials, and will have to wait years longer to get access to new medicines.

Of course big companies will survive, they will simply move their businesses elsewhere in the EU to stay at the front of the queue, it’s what their shareholders will demand. Thousands of highly skilled science and technology jobs will go. A UK market of only 60 million with a near monopoly purchaser (the NHS) demanding highly discounted prices, will simply not be a priority.

But what about all those small, innovative, one product companies on the various science parks of Britain? – For them any delay in reaching the market spells financial doom. They will go out of business or move abroad, that’s another few thousand highly skilled science jobs gone.

For the NHS, the primary concern will be loss of skilled European healthcare staff; about 50,000 doctors and more that 80,000 other health care workers.

Forget the 7day NHS, it’s an undeliverable, Conservative fantasyland.

* Catherine Royce was previously PPC for Uxbridge (2001) and Romsey (2017) as well as being on the Liberal Democrat Women executive. She is currently a member of the Federal Policy Committee and the Liberal International British Group Executive.

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7 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Oct '16 - 4:08pm

    There’s too many articles with a submissive approach to the EU. Vince Cable takes a better approach on the Newstatesman front page at the moment:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/10/germany-and-france-bend-single-market-rules-so-why-cant-britain-control

    Even if Brexit is a disaster, is it really fair for the EU to have so much imperial power? We should argue against the status quo, not worship its power, which is not what liberalism is about.

  • “For the NHS, the primary concern will be loss of skilled European healthcare staff; about 50,000 doctors and more that 80,000 other health care workers.”

    I might be wrong but has anyone said the 50,000 doctors or 80,000 health care workers have to leave the UK? If we run short of skilled people in the future, we will do what we have always done and recruit from overseas. I don’t think having control of our borders means no immigration, it just means being more selective. I’m not saying that’s the right approach, but that’s what I understand Brexit to mean.

  • malc, Yes, they reportedly did, here…
    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/theresa-may-suggests-nhs-doctors-from-overseas-only-welcome-until-2025_uk_57f365d1e4b056365584a252

    Suggests that experienced EU doctors that have served the NHS for many years will be sent away as soon as British born ones fresh out of med school become available.

  • Al is drawing the flawed conclusion :
    “Suggests that experienced EU doctors that have served the NHS for many years will be sent away as soon as British born ones fresh out of med school become available.”
    Al, stop the hysterics,.. no-one is being sent anywhere. Common sense tells you that we need all the doctors we can get,.. so why on earth, would we ask doctors to go pack their bags.? Seriously.?

    The doctors already here, [from wherever they originated],will stay here, and be very welcome. The point of training extra doctors in-house, is to reduce the need for future imports of doctors.
    But of course you knew that..!

  • Not my words. The article says, “Theresa May is facing a backlash after appearing to suggest foreign-born doctors will not be welcome in the United Kingdom beyond 2025.”

    But of course you knew that.

  • Even if Brexit is a disaster, is it really fair for the EU to have so much imperial power? We should argue against the status quo, not worship its power, which is not what liberalism is about.

    This point is what many are missing, with the UK outside of the EU, it (the EU) will be free of UK influence and I suggest it will tend to become more imperialistic in it’s exercise of power, as once again it becomes controlled by Franco-German interests. Which doesn’t bode well for any EEA/Efta arrangements the UK may wish to make, given the controlling interest the EU has in these associations.

    So yes, the real issue isn’t whether the UK should or shouldn’t leave the EU, but how do we make Europe better. I suggest the most favourable place to do that which gives the UK the most benefit is to remain within the EU, being a thorn in the feet of those who don’t fully support the pillars upon which their institution is founded.

    The problem is that due to weak leadership, the UK held an in/out referendum when the real challenge was and is to reform the EU into something more fit for purpose.

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