BRUSSELS, 10 August (APM) - Members of the UK and European Parliaments are largely ignorant about the implications of Brexit for the pharmaceutical industry, and many are indifferent or even hostile to the industry's concerns, suggests a new report based on surveys of their attitudes.
By contrast, legislators are more sympathetic to the challenges that patients may face in accessing medication - but fail to see the connection with the difficulties that drug firms will face in ensuring supply.
says urgent work is needed by industry, patients and the broader health community to demonstrate pharmaceutical companies’ concerns.
Unless drug firms themselves step up their efforts in influential quarters in the UK and in Europe as the Brexit negotiations stumble, "the industry as a whole risks being sidelined amid the chaos", it warns.
Lack of UK understanding
According to the surveys, more than half of the MPs in the UK House of Commons believe trade barriers could inconvenience patients, but only 14% consider that industry concerns should take any priority in the Brexit talks.
And among Conservative MPs - traditionally natural allies of industry, but also largely pro-Brexit - only 2% share that view, "despite a constant drumbeat of industry warnings about the potentially devastating consequences".
Less than a quarter of Conservative MPs consider that medicines shortages will be a problem.
Labour MPs tend to have greater concerns about the negative consequences of Brexit, but only a quarter of them trust the drug industry.
As a result, "despite the apparent importance of the life sciences sector to the UK government’s domestic policy platform, industry is still not seen by MPs as deserving of special attention during negotiations."
In addition, "the intrinsic link between pharma-led innovation and the health of UK patients and people is lost."
"The reality of a messy Brexit for the sector is not being heard by the majority of Conservatives. And whilst that same message might land well with Labour, they need to hear it from patient groups too," says the report.
Be bolder in Brussels
The report says there is little willingness among MEPs to engage with pharma on Brexit, with only 26% ready to do so.
A large majority of MEPs neither trust the industry to behave ethically and responsibly, nor believe that drug firms should be prioritised over other interests in Brexit.
As in the UK, MEPs perceive the risks of Brexit to the industry and to patients as distinct from each other. More than half of MEPs agree that patients’ interests need to be given greater priority.
"When it comes to Brexit, the European Parliament cannot see that the priorities of patients and pharma align," says the report.
"Given this group’s sway over the Brexit outcome, it is important that the industry finds new messages with which to capture their attention and increase their willingness to act", the report counsels.
Not quite too late?
However, the report acknowledges, most MPs and half of MEPs would like to have a greater understanding of what the pharmaceutical industry needs from Brexit, which, it suggests, leaves some room within the limited time left for more concerted action by drug firms.
But to get its concerns across in London or in Brussels, the industry will need to align its messaging with the patient safety agenda that MEPs are willing to engage in, says the report, recommending joint work with patients' groups. The more industry can align its Brexit concerns with patient interests, the more likely it is to get a hearing, it says.
"By motivating the shared interests of the health community to influence the influencers with one voice, the industry can take its core issues to the heart of Brexit negotiations at a crucial time."
In the UK in particular, "pharma must work with patient advocacy organisations to make the risk of medicines shortages real to Conservative backbenchers."
While "industry associations have been working hard with government and companies to mitigate the consequences of no-deal and the pervading uncertainty of Brexit", making sure that the message is heard clearly in Westminster will require individual companies to get more involved, the report concludes.