UK must avoid no-deal Brexit, says British pharma group

Crashing out of the European Union without a deal will be catastrophic, says the head of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) Mike Thompson.  However, the pharmaceutical industry is stockpiling medicines in preparation, he confirmed.

As the UK braces itself for an unprecedented and potentially calamitous exit from the European Union (EU) on March 29th, firms including Pfizer, Merck & Co, and Sanofi, as well as UK-headquartered GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, have reportedly been stockpiling medicines.

This was confirmed today by Mike Thompson, chief executive of the ABPI. Speaking on UK-based radio station LBC, he said every member of the group has been stockpiling drugs in case of the UK exiting the single market without an agreement in place.

Will Brexit be a bitter pill to swallow for the biopharma industry? Experts believe so if no deal is reached, Image: iStock/cbies

“Patients can be reassured that we are doing everything in our power to make sure we can get our medicines to them, even though this is the biggest logistical challenge that we are facing,” he said. “When parliamentarians come to think about the options ahead of them, no deal is something they should avoid at all costs.”

Brexit deal

The only deal currently on the table is a deeply unpopular option proposed by Prime Minister Teresa May. Members of Parliament (MPs) are set to vote on the deal next week. If it is rejected, it will leave the UK in unchartered territory, making a no-deal Brexit increasingly likely.

Remaining impartial politically, Thompson said the industry is as prepared as it can be but undoubtedly things will go wrong.

“There are over 12,000 medicines which are licensed to be used in the UK, that’s a massive challenge for us. On average there are normally about 50 medicines which have some shortage problem, so we’re used to managing shortages, but clearly when we’re talking about the challenge here there will be unexpected issues we have to deal with.”

According to Thompson, the UK is the third largest biopharmaceutical cluster for research and development outside the east and west coasts of the United States.

“That’s why Prime Minister May has made a proposal that we should stay really closely involved in Europe and they should stay close to us, because this is where the research is being done. The challenges we are facing from US and China, it is better for Europe to stay together to be an effective industrial powerbase.

MP’s ‘breathtaking arrogance’

Also appearing on the program, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative member of Parliament (MP), dismissed Thompson’s comments as part of ‘Project Fear,’ a term used by Brexiters intended to brush off the serious and negative social and economic implications of Brexit.

Rees-Mogg, who is also chairman of the mysteriously funded European Research Group (ERG) that has actively lobbied for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, told listeners the prospect drug shortages in a no-deal Brexit would be unlikely as both licensing and logistics will be “under our own control,” and that “this is not particularly complicated.”

Conservative MP and Brexit advocate Jacob Rees-Mogg. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Cantab12

However, one caller described Rees-Mogg’s unverified belief as “breathtaking arrogance, considering someone like Mike Thompson has worked in the industry for 30 years.”

The caller, who claimed to have worked for the pharma industry for over 10 years, including at GSK,  continued to inform the pro-Brexit MP about the negatives of leaving the EU from the pharma industry’s perspective.

“If a pharmaceutical company wants to register a new product, they do that in the EMA [European Medicines Agency]. If we leave, they will have to go for a second additional registration with our body, the MHRA [Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency]. That is a fact.

“That is going to eat into the profit margins of pharmaceutical companies and put off smaller innovative medicines from being applied for. And it will delay new medicines, that is a fact.”

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