Life science leaders say UK is better off in a reformed EU

Posted on 9 May 2016 by Jonny Williamson

The UK’s leading life science companies have today warned that leaving the EU could add risk to the wealth and health of the nation by bringing uncertainty to the industry, adding barriers to investment in the UK and threatening access to the latest medicines.

In a letter to The Observer, the chief executives of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI); Glaxo SmithKline; AstraZeneca, and the BioIndustry Association are among more than 90 signatories who claim that the future success of the UK life sciences sector is underpinned by being part of the EU’s single market, and EU regulatory processes.

If the UK was to leave a reformed Europe, companies would have to apply for separate market authorisations to sell their products in both the UK and Europe – which could delay access for the millions of NHS patients to the latest drugs and treatments.

The warning came on the same day Government published new statistics revealing the life sciences sector in the UK has grown to £60.7bn, with the UK’s EU membership shown to be key to expansion.

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP commented: “This is a serious warning from the leaders of the UK’s £60bn life science sector, which highlights the choice in this referendum: our economic security and global influence as part of the EU, or a leap in the dark.

“Being out on our own would risk the employment of 220,000 people, billions of pounds of inward investment, and our life science exports to the EU – which last year were worth over £29m every day.”

CEO of ABPI, Mike Thompson added: “Our members are overwhelmingly supportive of remaining in the EU.

“We believe that staying in the EU will mean that patients in the UK will be more likely to get faster access to new medicines than if we left. It will also encourage global pharmaceutical companies to continue to invest; employ; research; manufacture, and export in the UK, rather than elsewhere.”

A scientist looks at a bacteria culture (research, investigation, science, R&D) - image courtesy of DFC
The UK life sceince sector currently employs 220,000 people (image courtesy of DFC).

CEO of GSK, Andrew Witty said: “Large parts of the UK’s life sciences base has strong links with Europe whether that be for trade, manufacturing, scientific research collaborations or the harmonised regulatory drug approval system.

“Leaving the EU would create uncertainty and potentially add complexity. That’s why GSK sees advantages in remaining in the EU.”

CEO of BioIndustry Association, Steve Bates, noted: “We are concerned that the lack of clarity around what would happen to the regulation, patents ecosystem, financing and funding for UK bioscience if the UK were to leave the EU creates risk and uncertainty that could undermine the future success of the sector.

“It’s vital the UK remains engaged in the EU to influence legislative and regulatory policy developments affecting the life sciences ecosystem.”

In 2015, the UK’s life sciences sector – which spans pharmaceuticals, medical devices and digital health – saw around half of all pharmaceutical exports head to the EU – generating £11bn for the UK economy.

Manufacturing in the laboratory with chemicals
In 2015, the UK’s life sciences sector saw around half of all pharmaceutical exports head to the EU – generating £11bn for the UK economy.

Growth has been driven by UK’s leadership in emerging sectors like digital health – which has seen 23% growth a year since 2011 – and in advanced therapies manufacturing, with more than 35% average annual growth in turnover since 2011.

The UK’s life sciences relationship with the European Union is clear – as one of the largest beneficiaries of European Union research funding, second only to Germany, British scientists are accessing investment to develop treatments for issues such as meningitis and flu.

The UK also benefits from EU-wide research programmes which are developing treatments for a range of diseases such as dementia, and the rare disease MLD, which limits cognitive development among children.