There will be great opportunities for the UK life sciences sector after Brexit, according to Pascal Soriot, the Chief Executive of AstraZeneca (AZ), the big pharma company.
Together with representatives of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), senior members of AZ had been working with Government Ministers on a strategy post-Brexit. They have been sitting on the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy Board and a UK EU Steering Group led by Professor Sir John Bell. Sir John is an experienced clinical academic, leader in the NHS, board member of several biopharmaceutical companies and the Prime Minister's Life Sciences champion.
Mr Soriot said: "As business people we have to look for opportunities and make the best of it. And there are opportunities for the country, industry and for our company. The Government is very committed to developing an industry and policy to create a strong life sciences sector. We have had very rich dialogue with the Government... and there is a strong collaborative spirit that has developed and I think we can really do great things."
I have been to a couple of life sciences events in the last two weeks (EMIG and the Pharmaceutical Licensing Group) where presenters at sessions have found it hard to see the positives in Brexit. They are fearful of the loss of access to the single market in the European Economic Area and the UK's loss of influence with regulators such as the European Medicines Agency (which is expected to relocate from its London headquarters as a result of Brexit). They have also cited the fact that the much vaunted opportunities in the growth economies count for little when it comes to new medicines as those countries spend far more on generic medicines, and the opportunities for pharma businesses supplying new medicines are in the more developed markets such as Europe and North America. In addition, there are fears that the UK's civil service are very inexperienced when it comes to trade negotiations, with that activity having been conducted at centralised EU level for 40 years. That gap needs to be plugged.
Mr Soriot should be applauded for his positive outlook. Where there is change, there is opportunity. The UK still has a lot going for it in the life sciences sector and much that makes it an attractive place for drug developers to locate. The UK has some of the leading research institutes in the world, a very well-respected regulator in the MHRA, an established high quality skills base including several Nobel Prize winners, the 100,000 genome programme, and access to the NHS.