UK patients could see delays in access to new medicines if Brexit means leaving the single market, warns a new report published by think tank Public Policy Projects backed by health consultancy giant QuintilesIMS.
The report concludes that, while there is "a strong opportunity" for the UK to remain a global centre of excellence for life sciences, a so-called 'Hard' Brexit would likely have a detrimental effect on UK pharma, the economy and patients.
The life sciences sector is particularly concerned about Brexit because it is so closely linked with international and EU processes and infrastructure on many levels. Under a 'Hard Brexit' the harmonisation of the current shared clinical trials and drug approvals process between the UK and the EU would be lost, which could lead to years of delays in UK patients accessing innovative medicines, experts argue.
Earlier this year, a report by The Economist issued a similar warning that post-Brexit the UK would no longer provide the ideal point of entry to European markets. "Instead it would be just one isolated European market that cannot be entered using the EU centralised drug authorisation pathway," which means that "business opportunities for healthcare suppliers would become less attractive," and "regulations governing registration and trade would be more cumbersome, increasing the cost of doing business", it argued.
"Under an NHS model, restrictions to licensing will mean higher transaction costs, which will reflect in higher prices and hence medicines will cost more to the NHS. Brexit will mean less money for the NHS both in the short, and the long run," Dr Joan Costa-i-Font, health economics expert and professor of political economy at the London School of Economic, told The Independent, commenting on PPP's report.
"The more serious problem will be in the long run. As the EU is the main market of pharma companies based in the UK, not having EMEA close, being out of the single patent and licence, not being able to recruit on the same terms as before, along with top researchers being reluctant to move to a country where they don't have same rights, all of these things will have far more serious consequences than people think."
Stephen Dorrell, chair of the NHS Confederation, former Secretary of State for Health, and chair of PPP, stressed that the life sciences sector is "an essential British interest which must be a priority for ministers in their Brexit negotiations".
"The story of the development of life sciences is at heart a story of human achievement and a source of strength for the UK. We owe it to ourselves to ensure that our contribution is not sacrificed on the altar of political convenience".
The report also underscored the importance of securing single market access for the life sciences to guarantee free movement of scientists working in the sector and ensuring regulatory alignment with the EU.