Pharma Industry Responds to Latest Brexit Plan

By Akia Thorpe -

March 7, 2018

As negotiations between the European Union (EU) and the UK continue on a possible trade agreement in relation to the UK’s exit from the EU (i.e., Brexit) the pharmaceutical industry in the UK has stressed its priorities for a post-Brexit plan.  

In the most recent developments regarding Brexit, the UK and EU have offered differing positions on a future economic partnership with each other post Brexit. In a speech delivered March 2, 2018, UK Prime Minister Theresa May emphasized a system of “frictionless” trade between the UK and the EU post Brexit. “We want the freedom to negotiate trade agreements with other countries around the world. We want to take back control of our laws. We also want as frictionless a border as possible between us and the EU, so that we don’t damage the integrated supply chains our industries depend on...”

May further underscored the need for ease of trade between the EU and UK later in her speech: “When it comes to goods, a fundamental principle in our negotiating strategy should be that trade at the UK–EU border should be as frictionless as possible…. [W]e must ensure that, as now, products only need to undergo one series of approvals, in one country, to show that they meet the required regulatory standards,” May said in her speech. “To achieve this we will need a comprehensive system of mutual recognition.”

In response, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, which is an EU body that defines the EU's overall political direction and priorities, rebuffed May’s call for what she termed as “frictionless” trade although he did indicate the need for cooperation between both parties. “I propose that we aim for a trade agreement covering all sectors and with zero tariffs on goods. Like other free trade agreements, it should address services,” said Tusk in a March 7, 2018 statement. “…This positive approach doesn't change the simple fact that because of Brexit we will be drifting apart. In fact, this will be the first FTA [free trade agreement] in history that loosens economic ties, instead of strengthening them. Our agreement will not make trade between the UK and the EU frictionless or smoother. It will make it more complicated and costly than today, for all of us. This is the essence of Brexit.”

Pharmaceutical industry response

The pharmaceutical industry in the UK stressed the need for cooperation between the UK and EU to ensure the continued flow of medicines between both regions. “Every month, 45 million packs of medicines move from the UK to the EU – and 37 million come the other way,” said Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), which represents innovator, research-based pharmaceutical companies in the UK, in an association statement commenting on Prime Minister’s May speech. “That is why the Prime Minister’s commitment to seek cooperation on medicines regulation would be the best outcome for patients, not just in the UK but across Europe,” Thompson said in a March 2, 2018 statement.

In its statement, the ABPI highlighted its priorities for Brexit as follows:

  • Securing a transition period. “This should be a single-step transition that adequately reflects the time needed by pharmaceutical companies to transition to a new framework.”
  • Securing co-operation with the EU on the regulation of medicines. “This should achieve alignment between the UK and EU regulatory framework, to deliver proportionate, robust and effective regulation of medicines in the UK.”
  • Securing the ability to freely trade and move medicines and pharmaceutical supplies across borders. “This should be ‘frictionless’ and include access to free trade agreements already in place between third countries and the EU.”
  • Securing access to the best talent. “This should achieve an immigration system which allows global pharmaceutical companies to attract and transfer talented and skilled students, scientists and other professionals from around the world.”
  • Securing predictable access to funding and collaboration for scientific research. “This should achieve agreements on existing and future funding and collaboration opportunities such as Horizon 2020 (and its successor), including the Innovative Medicines Initiative. UK life science entrepreneurs should also be able to access the European Investment Bank and European Investment Fund.”

The UK BioIndustry Association (BIA), which represents the biotechnology sector in the UK, also responded to May’s speech. “It’s good to see the PM [prime minister] articulating the practical dynamics of our industry of the future, when she said in her speech that ‘membership of the European Medicines Agency would mean investment in new innovative medicines continuing in the UK, and it would mean these medicines getting to patients faster as firms prioritize larger markets when they start the lengthy process of seeking authorizations,” said BIA Chief Executive Officer Steve Bates. “It is good to see the PM’s recognition of the importance of ‘ensuring that these products only need to undergo one series of approvals, in one country’.”

Source: Theresa May (March 2, 2018 speech), European Council (March 7, 2018 statement), Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, and BioIndustry Association