By Mathew Shearman, Senior Account Manager at Ogilvy Healthworld London


Six months after the EU referendum and uncertainty over the future of the UK continues. That said, ‘never letting a good crisis go to waste’ has been a business mantra since it was first coined by Winston Churchill. Whether you see Brexit as a crisis or welcome outcome, what comes next has created both risks and opportunities for the life sciences industry in 2017.

The UK Government, now under Prime Minister Theresa May, is expected to initiate Article 50 in Q1 2017. An ongoing legal dispute, now under review by the UK’s highest court, may require her to seek a difficult parliamentary approval vote first. The legislation enabling Article 50 is still likely to pass, after which up to two years of negotiations will set out the new relationship between the UK and EU.

Much is unknown about the UK Government position, mainly because the government has yet to formulate a clear programme for whether it will pursue a ‘hard Brexit’ or some negotiated compromise with the EU. Early indications suggest that the UK will leave the single market but that a sector by sector approach will shape the government’s thinking on what comes next.

For the life sciences, this approach may prove favourable. The industry contributes more than £60 billion in to the UK economy and supports over 220,000 jobs. Reportedly valued by the PM, she mentioned the industry second in a recent speech of important industries (after the famed City of London). These early signs suggest that innovation in healthcare will remain at the top of the government’s priority list.

In the short term, the loudest demand may be one of continuity, seeking to maintain the UK’s engagement with the European Medicines Agency. The idea that Brexit could lead to a UK-only model of regulating medicines is seen as a clear danger of pushing the UK further down launch sequence planning for new treatments, as companies shy away from the additional regulatory burden. There is pragmatism however and it may be possible to achieve continued engagement with the EMA, irrespective of where the EMA’s office may be relocated from London in two years’ time.

Further pressures on the UK exporting market and place within the global supply chain as the clock ticks down on the UK’s access to the single market. Without free trade agreements with the EU or world, the $34.5 billion export market and ambitions to grow it look precarious. These issues will likely form the industry’s core strategy for future negotiations with the UK Government.

With new Ministers and parliamentary committees, new stakeholders have emerged with a remit to shape the future of the life sciences market. Lord Prior, taking the lead for the life sciences, is a well-experienced veteran of the sector. There is reason to believe that for all the risks, there is a genuine desire among policymakers to build a strong long-term platform for the expansion of R&D and investment in the UK.

The government is, for example, keen to stress that the UK is still open for business through a new industry strategy. Following the publication of the much-delayed Accelerated Access Review, aimed at accelerating access to innovation, it is this forthcoming strategy that has the government’s attention.

With so much flux in the UK market, companies would do well to build their communication strategies around a combination of short-term concerns and long-term aims. An ambitious view for the future in the UK, combined with clear asks to support long-term priorities should signal to the government that the life sciences should be heard as a valuable partner for this uncertain future.