by Thomas Meek at the UK Biotech Sector and Bexit seminar
LONDON, Nov 3 (APM) - The UK life sciences industry has moved from a position of grave concern on Brexit to a view that the UK leaving the EU could benefit the sector, a leading academic has said.
Sir Geoffrey Owen, a senior fellow in the department of management at the London School of Economics, said at a seminar in London on Thursday that the result of the referendum in June 2016 was a shock for an industry that actively campaigned for the UK to remain part of the EU, but it has since worked on gaining a deeper understanding of how to make the most of the situation.
“Over last months there has been a gradual shift from deep gloom to a more balanced assessment of what it means and how departure from the EU could be turned to the UK’s advantage,” said Owen, who was speaking at an event hosted by the Office of Health Economics.
Owen referred to Sir John Bell’s report on the UK’s life sciences industrial strategy, published in August (APMHE 54461
), which contains the sentence: “If managed carefully the EU exit may be used as a catalyst to take steps to speed the growth of the life sciences sector in the UK.”
Commenting on this possibility, Owen said: “It’s possible that after Brexit, because we will no longer be constrained by EU rules, the UK government will be freer to support the biotech sector on a more generous scale than it has done.”
There remain significant concerns about how Brexit will affect many aspects of UK industry, said Michael Hopkins, a senior lecture in science policy at the University of Sussex, who has written a book with Owen on the UK’s struggles to succeed in biotech, and was also presenting at the seminar.
He reiterated long-held worries about how the move will impact academic research in the UK, saying that he has heard from people who are stopping applying for research grants in the UK due to the concerns. UK universities receive 14% of research income from European Commission funding sources.
He added that scientists he has spoken to have been “dismayed” at the prospect of not having access to collaborative networks in Europe. “That’s a really big issue,” he said.
Other concerns include potential disruption to industry supply chains and regulator changes that “could lead to shrinkage of investment and discourage international firms from staying or coming to the UK”.
Some biotech funding, such as venture capital funding via the European Investment Bank, may also be disrupted, said Hopkins.
Regarding the potential support the UK government can provide for the industry going forward, Owen said Sir John Bell’s report also highlighted the prospects of the Healthcare Advanced Research Programme (HARP), a programme through which industries, charities and the NHS can collaborate on more ambitious and high-risk projects.
Owen, who is a former editor at the Financial Times, said the programme seems to be modelled on the U.S.’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and is intended to help create entire new industries, such as genomic healthcare. The success of the project will depend largely on the funding it can provide, however.
Owen also said it is important that UK embraces inward investment from other countries, rather than taking a protectionist stance.
“This is a global sector and it is vitally important that post-Brexit we do everything possible to maintain and if possible enhance our global and European connections. And that as a goal should figure very centrally in the government’s industrial strategy.”