by Thomas Meek at the BIA Bioscience Forum
LONDON, Oct 13 (APM) - Industry needs to plan for the “worst-case” Brexit scenario, the head of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA)'s Brexit taskforce has said.
Alan Morrison, who is also vice president international regulatory affairs at Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), said at a conference on Thursday that papers are coming out suggesting a “cliff-edge scenario” for healthcare, but that political discussion are only in the first phase, making it hard to advise on specific plans.
“Until the die is cast there we can only really plan a book-end scenario,” said Morrison during a panel session on Brexit at the BioIndustry Association (BIA)'s Bioscience Forum.
And that means preparing for a hard Brexit 'no deal' scenario that could impact trade and regulation between the UK and the EU.
“We're starting to plan for the worst case scenario. It's kind of 'plan for the worst and let's hope for the best'.”
These plans need to be arranged quickly, with many factors to be sorted before the UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019.
“The whole Brexit process will take about six months to enact. So we really only have a year left to plan,” said Morrison.
'Running out of time'
In the same panel session, Virginia Acha, executive director for research, medical and innovation at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), emphasised the need for the government to advance its Brexit discussions with the EU beyond this first phase.
This is crucial, as some companies may decide to change their processes to prepare for the UK as a third country regardless of the possible outcome in negotiations.
“In that case, the impact to the UK, that's an irreversible situation. You are going to get a change in the pattern of activities in operations in the UK that won't just come back if we get a better deal.
“We are trying to give that message to the UK - you are running out of time to keep people onside and keep them in a place where they can make the right decisions.
“But I don't think they have understood that very well. I think they thought they had longer; I think they thought the runway went until 2019."
She added: “The business community is saying 'you do not have a year and half to get to to phase two. You need to get to phase two now, because we really have not got any further runway'.”
'The collective wins'
The industry is keeping a united front in these discussions, said AstraZeneca's David Boyd in the same session, commenting that nobody at a pharma company is sitting in a boardroom wondering how they can get 'one over' their competitors.
“The competitive angle is one about how the UK can remain competitive post-Brexit.”
Boyd also said that Brexit will have a negative impact on countries in Europe - something that had been overlooked until recently.
“Brexit isn't just affecting the UK. Without a doubt the UK will be worse off. We cannot have the same arrangements we currently have, but there will be areas in Europe where they will suffer too if it all goes wrong, in particular in research and trade.
“I think this is a classic case where the collective wins.”
The benefits of collective work were seen in the report from the UK life sciences that was handed to government last September on the priorities for the sector as part of the Brexit process. Boyd said the recommendations in this report have led to a change in government attitudes towards the sector that have helped make it a priority in discussions.
Boyd also acknowledged the tight timeframe on regulation, suggesting more time was needed to ensure companies got things right on issues such as quality assurance and quality testing procedures.
“These are real issues, and that's why we need a transition period.”
Prime minister Theresa May suggested last month there needed to be a two-year “period of implementation” after March 2019 as part of the UK's exit from the EU (APMHE 54842
), while AstraZeneca chair Leif Johansson said earlier this month the firm wanted a transition period of "at least three years" (APMHE 54956