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May says UK's science base is a "negotiating priority" for Brexit

Stokes confidence in UK pharma as science and innovation featured among 12 key priorities

UKAfter weeks of expectation, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has finally laid out her vision for Brexit, pushing for a clean break with the EU.

The headline news from yesterday's speech is that the UK intends to leave the single market and there will be no partial membership of the bloc, and there is a determination to place controls on immigration. A new free trade agreement with the EU would be negotiated, said May, one that would provide "maximum freedom" to trade UK goods and services.

The EU response has been guarded, with principle negotiator Donald Tusk saying that at last there was a "more realistic" announcement on Brexit from the UK government, although politicians across the EU reiterated the insistence that there would be no cherry-picking of EU benefits.

The UK's new relationship with the EU will be set out by the end of the two-year period following the triggering of Article 50, although there was no news on when that may take place.

There was some cause for optimism for the life sciences sector, with May suggesting that maintaining the UK as "the best place for science and innovation" was an imperative - listed among the 12 negotiating priorities in the government's plan.

"One of our great strengths as a nation is the breadth and depth of our academic and scientific communities, backed up by some of the world's best universities," said May. "We will … welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research, and technology initiatives."

Those pronouncements were well-received by industry bodies representing the UK life science industries, even though polls suggest most senior executives had been staunchly in favour of remaining in the EU.

The chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) - Mike Thompson - saying they were a "welcome statement of intent that provides the UK's pharmaceutical industry with confidence for the future".

During the two-year negotiation period the ABPI will push for the UK's "continued cooperation and alignment with EU rules for the regulation of medicines," he said, as this will be "the best possible outcome for UK patients". Previously, studies have suggested that losing easy access to the single market will be tough on both patients and the pharma industry.

That sentiment was echoed by BioIndustry Organization (BIO) CEO Steve Bates, who also said the "increased certainty where possible from the speech is also useful for business planning".

"Drugs are the part of NHS care most integrated with the EU and therefore drug regulation will need the closest attention to avoid a disruptive cliff edge for patients in both the UK and EU," he added. "Here, I believe the process of, and industry expertise made available to, the UK government through the work of the UK EU Life Science Steering committee should be useful."

Overall, the PM's speech stayed pretty much in line with the piecemeal rhetoric coming out of the government in the last few months, and it is clear May wants to get the process going promptly. Staying in a transitional status for a long period risks "permanent political purgatory," she asserted.

Article by
Phil Taylor

18th January 2017

From: Healthcare



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