U.K. life science minister, cancer researchers argue against Brexit

The U.K.’s life sciences minister George Freeman and a group of prestigious oncology researchers have become the latest voices in a growing chorus of concern against Britain leaving the European Union--and what this will do to the scientific research community.

Speaking at the Biotrinity event in London this week, Freeman said that if Britain decided to leave the EU, this would have a profound effect on the £60 billion ($88 billion) life sciences industry in the U.K.

“Let me take this opportunity to say very clearly that I, and every other minister for business in the government, believe our future is better in the EU, and in this sector I hear an overwhelming voice that you us to make that clear.”

The U.K. government has taken a “remain” approach to the EU, but some prominent members of the ruling Conservative Party, as well as the Mayor of London, have chosen to run a “leave” campaign. Current polls suggest any final decision will likely be a close run thing.

A British referendum on whether to remain in the European Union is set for June 23, where the electorate can vote to remain or leave the Union. A decision to leave would take at least 2 years to come into force.

Also this week four leading researchers, including the former Royal Society president and director of the Francis Crick Institute, Sir Paul Nurse, write in The Lancet Oncology journal that maintaining links with EU researchers will be “vital to maintain the UK’s role in cancer research and improve UK cancer services”.

“This alliance will be most effectively delivered by remaining in the EU and robustly supporting research and patient-focused legislation,” they write in the journal.

“We must continue to influence and share European policy in important domains such as clinical trials and clinical best practice, and deliver the highest quality cancer research that underpins improved cancer care for our patients. It is for these reasons that we oppose the UK leaving the EU.”

Freeman and the researchers echo concerns from Steve Bates, the head of the U.K. biotech trade the BIA, who told FierceBiotech recently that he and his members believe that the U.K. must stay within the EU to remain competitive on the global stage--and warned that the EMA would have to leave London (and would also no longer be involved in medicine regulation in the U.K.), should the country vote out in the summer, potentially delaying the arrival of new drugs onto the market.

The U.S. President Barack Obama also unequivocally threw himself into the remain camp, saying in a trip to the country over the weekend that the U.S. will only do deals with large blocs--i.e., the European Union--and warned that the U.K. could spend years in a trade wilderness should it vote to go it alone, as it would need to “queue” for a trade deal with the U.S.

-see the cancer researchers’ release