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Experts seek medical research prioritisation in Brexit talks

Joint plea for EU-UK medical research relationship to be saved

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Eight leading UK medical organisations have issued a joint plea for the UK to maintain its strong relationship with the EU over medical research during Brexit negotiations, in a report published yesterday.

The impact of collaboration: the value of UK medical research to EU science and health joint report was commissioned by Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, the Medical Research Council, Arthritis Research UK, MQ: Transforming Mental Health, Association of Medical Research Charities, Wellcome, the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Its authors argued that partnerships between UK and EU medical researchers have increased the value of research, benefiting patients across Europe and fostered and strengthened scientific co-operation.

As negotiations began on a new relationship between the UK and the EU, it was vital that they resulted in the best possible outcome for science and patients across the EU, they said.

Clinical trials had benefitted vastly from UK and EU researchers working together, especially those for rarer diseases where the UK led the highest number of trials.

The leadership role played by researchers in the UK in Europe was reflected through their extensive membership of influential scientific committees and panels, argued the authors, who pointed out that UK researchers accounted for 17% of the membership of the scientific advisory boards at Germany’s Max Planck Institutes – the highest proportion from one country.

This leadership extended to the UK’s authorities, including the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which, between 2008 and 2016, had acted as scientific advice co-ordinator in at least a fifth of centralised European Medicines Agency (EMA) medicine approvals.

A number of experts from across Europe were interviewed for the report and many highlighted the UK’s ability to conduct translational research to discover new treatments and devices that could benefit patients across Europe.

This has included the development of a new generation of genetically targeted personalised medicines through to interventions for wellbeing and mental health.

The UK’s role as a trainer of scientists is also highlighted in the report, which says that around 16,000 students from EU countries are enrolled on biomedical courses at UK higher education institutes.

Around 20% of EU nationals trained in the UK went on to take up positions in other European countries, it says.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Science is global. As the UK and the EU enter into negotiations to determine the new relationship, it’s vital that ensuring collaborations between medical researchers across Europe continue is a priority.”

Professor Sir Robert Lechler, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “Our relationship with researchers within the EU is mutually beneficial for both scientific research and patient care.

“The UK must prioritise maintaining and strengthening this valuable symbiotic alliance/partnership as we begin negotiations to leave the EU.”

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “It’s essential that the UK’s new relationship with the EU helps strengthen existing scientific links, encourages new collaborations, and maximises our ability to contribute to the global research effort.”

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