As new prime minister takes the helm, U.K.-based GSK still balks at 'no deal'

GlaxoSmithKline GSK House in Brentford, UK
GSK House in Brentford, U.K. (GlaxoSmithKline)

It wasn’t the best timing for GlaxoSmithKline’s second-quarter financial call: While CEO Emma Walmsley went through the numbers, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May was giving her last speech as prime minister in Parliament.

We now know that former Cabinet Minister and ex-Mayor of London Boris Johnson is the new prime minister. He's an ardent "Brexiteer" who wants the U.K. to leave the EU by Nov. 1, either with a new deal or with no deal.

Johnson, who led the so-called Leave campaign in 2016 that won the argument for Britain to leave the EU, also helped launch R&D life science hub MedCity back in 2014, which wants to capitalize on the so-called "golden triangle" of medical and life sciences R&D organizations between London, Oxford and Cambridge.

This internal network is the sort of thing British life sciences companies like, but GSK is still worried about what the future holds post-Brexit.  

Speaking to reporters on the financial call this morning, Walmsley said that while she wouldn’t get into “any political commentary,” she would say: “We continue to prepare for all scenarios; we’ve made very good progress, as it has now been some time (since the EU referendum in the summer of 2016), on our contingency plan.

“What matters, and what has always mattered, is the continuity of supply and distribution of medicines and the consumer products people need. We’ve been consistent in the view that no deal would be a bad outcome, but mainly because it moves us further away from what we want to see, which is deep regulatory and scientific co-operation between the U.K. and the EU. So, we’d like to see an agreement as soon as possible.

“But what’s really important, and GSK remains ready to work constructively with the government, is to drive our contribution, and the contributions of the life science industry, for the U.K. to be a globally recognized innovative and competitive environment, and we need to play to those strengths, whether it be  leading the way in new technologies, such as genomics, or using the (state-funded) NHS as a platform for research, and still very much being open in using our academic centers to attract the very best talent in the world, and making sure incentives, like the R&D tax credits, continue to incentivize U.K. companies.”