Public Health

17.05.18

UK risks being ‘second-tier state’ for drugs without post-Brexit EMA deal, MPs say

The government must “protect the UK’s status as a world leader for pharmaceuticals” in a future made uncertain by the ongoing Brexit negotiations, MPs have said today.

A report released by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee (BEIS) argued that leaving the European Union without an agreement for the industry would diminish access to markets that bring £11.9bn of worth of exports to the economy and significantly impact the cost of drugs imported in from the EU.

No deal between both sides would risk a “hugely damaging effect” on the procurement of drugs coming in from the EU, of which the Union supplies almost three-quarters of the nation’s entire drug imports demanded by Brits.

The MPs said: “As a highly-regulated industry, the prospect of regulator divergence from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is the deepest concern for the industry. Without a continued relationship, there is a significant risk of the UK being a second-tier state for new and innovative medicines.

“There are no benefits from regulatory divergence and no prospect of the industry being able to fully manage any divergence required in the time available for transition,” the report wrote.

If the UK departs from EMA regulations, the committee claimed the release of a new drug could cost as much as £45,000, putting the nation’s attractiveness for top pharmaceutical companies and professionals in doubt.

MPs called upon the government to keep the UK in the EMA as a priority when entering the Brexit negotiations. They concluded: “We have sought out any potential benefits to the UK pharmaceutical sector from Brexit, but found that any small gains would be hugely outweighed by additional costs or the loss of access to existing, successful markets.

“The best potential we found for the UK to remain and grow as a world leader in the development, manufacture and regulation of pharmaceuticals is to maintain as close as possible a relationship with the EU as possible.”

Rachel Reeves MP, chair of the BEIS Committee, said: “The government’s own analysis identifies pharmaceuticals as the sector for which UK/EU market access is the most important given the industry is reliant on friction-free border movement for their products. Any delays at the border faced by short-life pharmaceuticals for emergency treatments would have a hugely detrimental impact on patients.

“Some form of membership of the EMA is vital to the continued success of the pharma industry and to the welfare of British patients, and the government should strike a deal to keep some of the organisation’s jobs and facilities in the UK, to continue to share our world-leading expertise.”

Peter Ballard, chair of the British Generic Manufacturers Association, said the organisation fully supports the report’s key finding that Whitehall must secure a post-Brexit deal for the pharma industry “ensuring the closest possible regulatory alignment with the EU and the minimum border friction possible,” or else it risks harming patients.

“There is a real risk that the UK becomes a second tier country behind the US and the EU with the launch of new medicines being delayed due to different regulatory rules,” he concluded.

Image Credit: artisteer, iStock images

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