Brexit: A Serious Threat to Patients


As the UK extracts itself from the European Union, key figures from the country’s life sciences sector are split on the implications of Brexit for their industry.

“The UK pharmaceutical industry and the patients who rely on it are under serious threat from Brexit”

Erik Nordkamp, Pfizer

Erik Nordkamp, the UK managing director of US multinational Pfizer and chair of the American Pharmaceutical Group (APG) – which represents the ten largest bio-pharmaceutical companies with a presence in the UK – feels that Britain’s continuing seat at the top table of global life sciences is under threat from Brexit, with uncertainty as to the shape of the Brexit deal and how much UK regulation will fall in line with that of the EU. Coupled with that uncertainty is a slow uptake of innovative medicines by the UK’s public National Health Service (NHS).


Nordkamp points out that countries such as France, Germany, Japan and Switzerland “benefit from 75 per cent more treatments in their first year after launch than are available in the UK”. He adds, “The UK pharmaceutical industry and the patients who rely on it are under serious threat from Brexit as well as from the flawed way medicines are developed, tested and made available to patients in the country… [the UK] must cement its position in life sciences or risk the erosion of a critical industry.”


Along with representatives from other APG members such as Lilly, Abbvie, Amgen, Gilead and Celgene, Nordkamp will meet with government ministers this week to demand faster action on implementing the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy launched in 2017, which pledged to increase the speed at which new medicines are taken up by the NHS.


While all actors acknowledge that Brexit will entail a period of change and uncertainty for UK life sciences, some are less worried of the decision’s potential effects on one of the world’s leading countries for basic science and drug discovery. Hugo Fry, managing director of Sanofi UK, notes that “Brexit looms large on the horizon, but the UK will always be a great place for science. In terms of healthcare, pharma and innovation, the UK will always be strategically important.” This is backed up by Terry O’Regan, vice president and managing director of Biogen UK and Ireland, who boldly states, “Personally, I can’t imagine the UK losing its prowess in life sciences anytime soon. The UK will remain a fantastic arena for understanding genomics and undertaking early drug discovery.”


Other multinational representatives even predict Brexit becoming a catalyst to drive the UK life sciences industry forward. Haseeb Ahmad, country president of Novartis, urges a long-term perspective, pointing out that, “Without a doubt, Brexit will entail a lot of change, and, more importantly, a lot is still entirely uncertain around the immediate post-Brexit future. Beyond this, however, Brexit can be and has been a catalyzing force for the life sciences industry in the UK.”


Gary Hendler, chairman and CEO of Japanese firm Eisai’s EMEA operations, which are based in the UK, is similarly optimistic. He posits that, “At Eisai, we actually view Brexit as quite positive and I do not think it is doom and gloom at all. On the contrary, it presents an opportunity for the UK to improve its environment for life sciences. As we get closer to Brexit, we see this as an opportunity to be seized upon.”

Writer: Patrick Burton

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