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Pharmaceutical Market Europe - March 2019

PME March

The EMA’s departure is a tragedy for the UK – but we’re heading for a bigger one

On 1 March, the European Medicines Agency sent out one last tweet before it left London for Amsterdam, thanking the city for being a ‘gracious host’ for nearly 25 years.

The loss of the EMA because of Brexit is a tragedy for the UK’s life sciences sector and for the country as a whole – but this could just be the beginning of the bad news.

That’s because despite all the warning signs and cogent arguments raised in opposition, the political momentum is still behind leaving the EU, even though it is abundantly clear that any kind of Brexit will be a step backwards for the country.

The EMA loss is especially illustrative of the prevailing political mood, what the BIA’s Steve Bates calls a political world ‘turned upside down’.  Back in the mid-1990s, then Prime Minister John Major fought hard to bring the new EMA to London, beating off competition from other European cities to host the first all-EU medicines regulator. Fast forward to 2019, and the UK government has barely acknowledged the loss of the EMA, seeing it as collateral damage in the blind drive towards fulfilling the ‘will of the people’.

While many in the sector will be numb to the relentless confusion of Brexit, there are many who are still engaged, trying to limit the damage and forge the best possible future for UK life sciences.

On page p26 we hear some unusually good news: clinical trials in the UK are thriving, and outperforming their peers in the rest of western Europe, thanks to a long-term and co-ordinated effort to support the sector from the government and the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR).

This shouldn’t disguise the fact that Brexit will cause unnecessary damage to life sciences across numerous domains, including restricting immigration and (in the least-worst Brexit scenario) denying it full membership of the EMA and EU research and pharmacovigilance networks.

The sector’s leaders are doing their best to not publicly ‘talk down’ the UK, for fear of scaring away investment from abroad. Nevertheless, they’re sending clear signals to political leaders that Brexit will marginalise, demote and diminish the UK in an increasingly connected and competitive age.

There remains a slim chance that Parliament will agree to put the question back to the people (having run out of other options) and give the country a chance to have second thoughts on the muddle-headed concept of ‘taking back control’.

In the meantime, the life sciences sector will stay focused on its work, while hoping that the politicians will come to their senses before it’s too late.

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