George Freeman has been moved on from the post of minister for life sciences as part of a reshuffle initiated by new U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May in the wake of the Brexit vote. The rejig leaves the life sciences sector at least temporarily without a dedicated minister--but with an ally in a key policy role--at a time when it is trying to shape the outcome of the vote to leave the European Union.
May ended Freeman’s stint as minister for life sciences to free him up to take on the role of chair of the prime minister’s policy board. The new position gives Freeman, who has built a reputation as one of the government’s more creative thinkers, the chance to exert influence over policies in areas beyond life sciences. But, with the life science role being effectively tailor-made for Freeman and the reshuffle including no details on who, if anyone, will replace him, there are doubts about whether the industry will continue to receive the dedicated attention it has enjoyed in recent years.
Freeman took up the position of minister for life sciences in 2014, becoming the first politician dedicated to the industry in the U.K., or any other country. David Cameron, who stepped down as prime minister following the Brexit vote, set up the post to take advantage of Freeman’s experience at a time when a string of Big Pharma cutbacks had focused attention on the future of the industry in Britain. Prior to becoming a politician, Freeman worked as a venture capitalist and held leadership roles at life science companies.
Now, Freeman will have the chance to apply this experience to other areas of government policy. For the life science sector, the presence of an ally in a notable policymaking post could prove valuable, particularly at a time when so many aspects of the future direction of the U.K. are uncertain. The downside is that ally will no longer be committing 100% of his attention to life sciences. And, after several days of ministerial appointments, including the release of a long list of junior posts, May is yet to assign anyone to the now-vacant life science position.
Freeman has confirmed some aspects of life science policy will be unaffected by his departure. The Accelerated Access Review, which is assessing ways to cut the time it takes for drugs to pass through development and into the healthcare system, will continue. Originally, the review was scheduled to have published its final findings by now, but the date was pushed back beyond the date of the vote on membership in the European Union.
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