As U.K. politicians fret Brexit will ‘decimate medical research,’ AstraZeneca sticks to R&D plan

AstraZeneca’s reiteration of its previously announced freeze on investments in U.K. manufacturing has caused alarm among politicians. In the fevered pre-Brexit environment, pro-Remain politicians saw the reiteration of an old position as evidence the split from the U.K. will decimate life science research.  

The excitement stems from a comment AstraZeneca chairman Leif Johansson made to French newspaper Le Monde. Johansson said AstraZeneca would maintain its decision not to invest in the U.K. if there is no transition deal that clarifies the terms of the post-Brexit relationship with the European Union. The comment was seized upon by politicians opposed to Brexit.

"More grim #BrexitReality as AstraZeneca halts investment in U.K. No one voted to decimate medical research," Sarah Wollaston, a pro-Remain MP, doctor and chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, wrote on Twitter.

Wollaston was not the only public figure to see implications for U.K. life science research in Johansson’s comments. Phillip Lee, a politician who resigned over the government’s approach to Brexit, made a similar link to Wollaston, stating "we need to keep our world-class research base if we want our pharmaceutical industry to survive and thrive."

The fears are somewhat divorced from the current reality, though. While certain outcomes to Brexit could feasibly affect AstraZeneca’s investment in R&D in the U.K., as it stands the company is pushing ahead with its projects. 

"Things are as they were nearly 18 months ago," a spokesperson for AstraZeneca said. "The freeze is on the manufacturing side. The Cambridge stuff, the R&D, that’s unchanged."

While Johansson’s comments were seen as a bombshell in some quarters, they are a continuation of a position AstraZeneca adopted last year. Back then, CEO Pascal Soriot told the Financial Times AstraZeneca was holding off on new investments in U.K. manufacturing until there was clarity over the future regulatory regime and relationship to the EU. 


Join us at the Royal Society of Medicine on October 30, where FierceBiotech will be discussing the future of biomedical R&D after Brexit with key players: