Brexit has left no part of the British economy untouched, and with a year to go before the tumultuous departure from the European Union, those in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors are among those who are worried. And if a so-called hard Brexit is going to strike anyone, it may well be these two critical industries that are so important for the health of the economy and the nation.
For starters, the Brexodus is already well under way and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is on the way out of the UK, taking 900 jobs with it as it sets up in Amsterdam instead. Many more EU agencies, organisations and private firms are also making the move, deeming it critical to stay in the bloc so it can serve clients without trade, licensing or other blocks that may well appear in the absence of cross-border deals.
It’s a messy divorce, for sure, and after Britain and the EU have gone their separate ways, it’s entirely possible that pharmaceutical market access to and from both will be problematic. Decades of integration between the two almost certainly will be difficult to untangle, and there are real risks for patients all over the EU as well as in the post-Brexit UK. Solving regulatory, licensing and other issues must therefore be a priority for Brussels and London.
A Major Separation Operation
Among the key challenges facing the pharmaceutical consulting and healthcare sectors after Brexit will be access to medicines. Currently, companies in the UK hold the licenses for around 2,400 medicines that are sold and used in health centres all around the EU, according to the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations. Ensuring non-interruption of supplies after Britain leaves the EU will be vital.
However, now that the EMA is setting up in the Netherlands, its post-Brexit task will also be to work out a way to keep these medicines flowing into EU member states. Its job in this regard will be to award the licensing to a country in the EU so that the medicines can be sold around what will then be a 27-member bloc.
“If we would like to avoid problems in terms of the supply of medicines and shortage of medicines they will have to do all the necessary steps in order to make sure we are not confronted with that situation,” EMA executive director Guido Rasi has said.
An Injection of Harsh Reality
Indeed, such are the fears over what will happen after Brexit that Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee has launched an investigation into the likely impacts of pharmaceutical investment and the price of medicines. The committee is also looking into staffing levels after the seismic breakup, as rising numbers of EU nationals who were resident in Britain and working in the healthcare sector leave, and others stay away.
“There are serious concerns raised around the future regulation of pharmaceuticals, mutual recognition of medicines, and the prospect of damaging disruption to cross-EU drug supply chains,” said the committee’s chair, Rachel Reeves. She said Britain was at risk of “becoming a less desirable place for investment and development in a growing, productive industry”.
“We are keen to examine the detail of these concerns and to hear from the industry what it wants from the government to ensure the smoothest possible transition as we leave the EU,” she added.
There’s a lot at stake. As of now, around 45 million medicine packs are exported from the UK to the EU every month and the EU sends 37 million packs of medicine to the UK, according to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Maintaining this key supply chain will be crucial in the months and years ahead.