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How would Brexit affect the UK’s Life Sciences industry?

What seemed like an impossible scenario five years ago is now a very real possibility: Britain could actually exit from the EU.

With the referendum coming closer, the headlines are full of pros and cons. So what does Brexit mean for one of the UK’s high-tech, high growth sectors: the UK Life Sciences industry?

According to some of the biggest Pharma players in the world, such as Britain's GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, France's Sanofi and Germany's Bayer, it would threaten scientific research and jeopardize the European 28-nation bloc system of drug regulation.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) said “Britain's continued EU membership was in the best interests of a strong life sciences sector both in the UK and across Europe”.

Scientists for EU warn that the effects of Brexit would be especially detrimental and will raise many questions:

  • The UK is home to many of Europe’s largest life science organizations, including the European Medicines Agency. If the largest organizations feel they have no choice but to relocate to elsewhere in the EU, might smaller organizations follow?
  • The UK is a major participant in cross-EU research programs such as Horizon 2020 and its predecessors. Would British life sciences companies still have access to these programs?
  • If industry leadership moves elsewhere in Europe, what will happen to the UK’s burgeoning life sciences start up sector?
  • UK businesses receive the third highest amount under the EU’s FP7 program. Would this funding be at risk?
  • Would restrictions on freedom of movement lead to skill shortages within the British Life Sciences sector?
  • The Pro Europa group points to the regulatory concerns Brexit poses. To what extent, for example, would the EU’s medicine regulations continue to apply to the UK?
  • What are the supply chain risks in a sector where every ingredient and component is regulated and scrutinized?

The precise nature of Brexit is still very uncertain; and uncertainty will be a business distraction and changing the current arrangement would lead to disruption, expense and significant regulatory burdens for a new authorisation system.

So what is your opinion? As always, I am very interested in hearing your thoughts.

Norma Warwick-Smith is Senior Consultant, Pharmaceuticals & Life Sciences at Interim Partners.

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