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UK needs 'Brexit contingency plan' to protect its science base

Action must be taken to safeguard life sciences in the country, say MPs

UK flagAn influential group of MPs has warned the UK needs contingency plans in place to protect its life sciences sector in the event of a leave vote in the forthcoming EU referendum.

That was one of the key messages from the Science and Technology Select Committee, whose report on EU regulation of the life sciences was published over the weekend.

Although the cross-party committee of MPs said it “does not seek to prejudge” the June 23 vote and the report “does not express a view on which outcome would be best for UK life sciences”, the report could easily be read as supporting the case to remain in the EU.

Committee chair Nicola Blackwood said: “It is clear that there are benefits of being in the EU for UK life sciences and research bodies in terms of collaboration and access to an EU market many times bigger than the UK market alone.

"If we left, our life sciences sector would still have to follow EU regulations to sell in the single market, but Britain wouldn't get a say in setting those rules."

However, the Committee did acknowledge that, should the UK remain in the EU, action would still need to be taken to improve the way the EU works with regards to the science industry.

To that end they called for the introduction of an evidence-based regulatory policy, replacing the existing 'process-based approach' with a less complex and more streamlined system.

The MPs also stressed the need to introduce 'scientifically-led' conversations on 'emotive issues' like genetic science in the EU, declaring it an area that “has so far not come close to satisfactorily demonstrating an evidence-based approach to policy making”.

With Switzerland currently cited by those in favour of leaving the EU, Blackwood warned that the country's experience should serve as a cautionary tale.

"When the Swiss voted to curtail free movement of people, the EU revoked access science funding and collaboration, undermining the country's science sector,” she said. “Following lengthy negotiations Switzerland was permitted re-entry to Horizon 2020 but on much more restrictive terms.

“Furthermore, non-Member States do not own the IP of any research they do conduct in collaboration with the EU so in the event of Brexit the value of any EU based research for exploitation may be limited."

Responding to the report, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association (BIA) Steve Bates, said: “EU membership brings net benefits to the UK life sciences sector through harmonised regulation, greater patent protection, [and] support for research collaboration.”

Bates seconded the report's warning of the potential for loss of funding and inward investment in the wake of a leave vote, adding that this could jeopardise the UK's status as “the world-leading talent the life sciences sector depends upon”.

“All of this would have negative consequences for the UK and its economy,” he concluded.

Article by
Dominic Tyer

13th June 2016

From: Healthcare



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