British MPs say they are keen to secure a close working relationship with the European Union on drug regulation post Brexit to protect patient health and investment in the UK’s life sciences sector.

In a letter to the Financial Times, health secretary Jeremy Hunt and business secretary Greg Clark stressed that “the UK would like to find a way to continue to collaborate with the EU, in the interests of public health and safety”.

A key concern for the industry is the UK’s potential loss of European Medicines Agency membership and the delays to drug approvals a separate regulatory system could bring.

As a report by The Economist warned that last year, the fear is 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.

In their letter, the MPs said if Brexit negotiations fail to secure the desired relationship with the EU, the UK would have to establish its own regulatory system for drug approvals “as quickly as possible”, but stressed that the overall aim “is to ensure that patients in the UK and across the EU continue to be able to access the best and most innovative medicines."

Mike Thompson, chief executive of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said the letter “signals a readiness to take a pragmatic approach to Brexit negotiations that puts people’s health first. This is a great first step and we look forward to seeing more detail in the coming weeks and months.

“The timeframes we need to meet to ensure no disruption or delay mean that confirmation of a reciprocal approach from the EU would provide welcome certainty to more than 500 million patients.”