A who's who of British biopharma have put their names to a letter warning of the harm a Brexit would cause to their industry. If the United Kingdom votes to exit the European Union, AstraZeneca ($AZN) CEO Pascal Soriot, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) R&D Chief Patrick Vallance and others predict it will cause disruption, expense and significant regulatory burdens, while also deterring inward investment.AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot
The publication of the letter comes days after Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed the public will vote on whether to stay in EU on June 23. With some polls suggesting most people want to leave the U.K. and prominent politicians backing the exit campaign, the great and the good of the British biopharma industry have gone into bat for the movement to remain in the EU. As the 55 executives see it, leaving the EU would undo decades of work to build a Europe-wide regulatory framework for the development and commercialization of drugs.
"The benefits of an integrated yet competitive environment are clear," Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg. "We have one single regulatory authority, one process that facilitates sharing data and information across countries and gives approval for a new medicine across the entire European community. This is effective for companies, health systems and ultimately for patients."
Swapping this model for the as-yet-undefined regulatory relationship the U.K. would have with its neighbors after exiting the EU is seen as a risky move by the BioIndustry Association and many of the companies it represents. "Changing the current arrangement would lead to disruption, expense and significant regulatory burdens for a new authorization system," the executives wrote. "It could also pose significant risks to the U.K.'s attractiveness for inward investment and as a location for the world-leading talent the life sciences sector depends upon."
While the noises emerging from the industry to date have been overwhelmingly downbeat about the impact of Brexit, other observers have been more sanguine. George Freeman, the U.K. life science minister, has ultimately decided the U.K. is best served by sticking with its neighbors, but two years ago he co-authored a report warning of the "growing hostility of the EU to 'biotech'." At the time, Freeman, who was broadly content with EU medicines regulation, said the U.K. needed a way to amend "potentially damaging legislative measures."