A 'hard' Brexit that leaves the UK without easy access to the single market would be tough on both patients and the pharma industry, says a new report.
Former Secretary of State for Health Stephen Dorrell has warned that patients could face a longer wait for access to new medicines if Brexit negotiations do not preserve harmonisation of the clinical trials and approvals process between the UK and EU.
Without that, drugmakers are likely to prioritise getting drugs approved in the EU, with a roll-out in the much-smaller UK market following behind, says the Public Policy Projects report.
Meanwhile, the life sciences sector risks being relegated to a "second-tier player" on the world stage unless Brexit negotiators take pains to preserve five priorities: access and regulation; freedom of movement; trade; R&D funding; and intellectual property.
"Alongside the motor industry and financial services, the life sciences sector is an essential British interest which must be a priority for ministers in their Brexit negotiations," said Dorrell, who is now chair of the NHS Confederation.
It is imperative that the sector is not "sacrificed on the altar of political convenience," he continued, adding that securing the right relationship between the UK and EU will be vital in retaining the status of the industry.
That can only be achieved by making sure that single market access is retained for the life sciences, guaranteeing free movement of highly qualified scientists working in the sector and ensuring that regulation of medicines, devices and technology remains aligned with the EU.
"In order to reserve its position as a global premier industry player, UK life sciences needs a share of voice equal to that of finance, automotive and agriculture at the Brexit table," says the report.
Last month, the BioIndustry Association (BIA) published its own 'wish list' for the UK life sciences sector post-Brexit, including expansion of the R&D tax credit, reimbursement of drugs supplied for use under the Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS) and tax breaks for private citizens wishing to invest in smaller companies.
Chancellor Philip Hammond recently committed to investing £220m to support the development of new technology in the life sciences sector and promised that after Brexit the government will subsidise projects that have received multi-year funding from the EU before the UK leaves the bloc.