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Brexit could disrupt supplies of medicines in UK

Patients must continue to benefit from early access to new health technologies and medicines

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Access to medicines and medical technologies could be delayed or even become impossible once the UK leaves the European Union, unless a deal is reached, the Brexit Health Alliance has warned. It is urging both sides to ‘put patients first’ in their negotiations to avoid disruption to both the supply of medicines and to research into new medicines and medical technologies.

The Brexit Health Alliance, which represents the NHS, medical research, industry, patients and public health organisations, said its aim is to secure a cooperation agreement between the UK and the EU on regulation of medicines and medical devices "to safeguard the interests of patients and the healthcare and research they rely on". It has investigated how UK and EU citizens could be affected by the disruption in trade that could result from the UK’s exit from the EU, and by lack of cooperation on regulation.

It said in its latest briefing paper that many medicines risk supply disruption following Brexit if negotiations fail to find a solution for future cooperation between the UK and the EU on regulation and trade of medicines and medical devices. One example that it examined in a case study is an (unnamed) drug developed in the UK and manufactured here ‘in a highly sophisticated process’ since 1987, which is used to treat prostate cancer and breast cancer in 80 countries including the whole of Europe. It said a ‘no deal scenario’ would, in the case of this drug alone, affect the supply of this treatment to up to 120,000 prostate cancer patients throughout Europe.

The alliance warned that the future of research into new medicines and medical technologies could also be affected. It reported that about 750 UK-led clinical trials including multiple EU member states could be at risk if there is no plan on how to approve and manage these multi-national trials with European partners after March 2019.

Alliance co-chair Niall Dickson said: “It is critical that UK and EU patients do not lose out on the best treatments and medical devices as the UK leaves the EU. We want to make sure that patients continue to benefit from early access to new health technologies and cutting-edge medicines, and that includes being able to take part in international clinical trials.

“This can be achieved if will is there – what patients need is maximum co-operation and alignment between the EU and the UK on the regulation of medicines and medical devices ... Let’s put patients first – both the UK Government and European Commission must make this cooperation priority in the interests of UK and EU patients.”

Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities, agreed that it is vital that patients’ health is put first in the second phase of negotiations. She said: “If not, patients in the UK and the EU could face delays in accessing potentially life-saving treatments. Officials on both sides of the negotiating table must have patients’ best interests at heart and ensure safety considerations are paramount.”

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