Experts are warning that Brexit will cause delays in pharmaceuticals for UK patients. With the UK leaving the EU, this means that Britain will also lose its cooperation with the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Last month, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that with Brexit the UK will pull out of the EMA. But he remained “hopeful” that the UK would continue to work closely with the EMA through “separate regulatory arrangements.”

The EMA is based in the UK and regulates drugs for use within the EU. After Brexit, it will most likely leave the UK. It was founded in 1995 and has been responsible for “scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines developed by pharmaceutical companies for use in the EU.”

It serves a market of over 500 million people living in the EU. It protects public and animal health in 28 EU Member States and in the countries of the European Economic Area, ensuring that all drugs are safe, effective and of good quality. 

The EMA has been committed to providing “timely patient access to new medicines” and supporting the development of new pharmaceuticals for patients. 

After Brexit, there are also all those EU benefits that many of us took for granted: access to healthcare in Europe or a health insurance card will be lost freedoms. 

2-Year Delays in Drugs

Sir Alasdair Breckenridge, former chairman of the UK's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said that companies will have to pay a different assessment in order for drugs to be available in the UK. Talking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: “The UK market compared to the European market of course is small and they may decide not to come to the United Kingdom. So, therefore, there will be delay in getting new drugs - important new drugs, anti-cancer drugs, anti-infective drugs - for patients in the UK.”

The MHRA chairman, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, also explained that Japan, the US and the EU would be placed ahead of Britain: “One of the biggest worries I have about Brexit and standing alone as a regulator is that we are only three per cent of the world market for new drugs and if we are not careful we are going to be at the back of the queue.”

David Jeffreys, the vice-president of Japanese drug company, Eisai, said that: “The early innovative medicines will be applied for in the USA, in Japan and through the European system and the UK will be in the second, or indeed the third, wave - so UK patients may be getting medicines, 12, 18, 24 months later than they would if we remained in the European system.”

New Brexit opportunities

A spokesperson from The Department for Health said that there would be new opportunities with Brexit and that new drugs would be easily available from other markets: “In fact, Brexit brings opportunities in this area, and we will be focused on whether we can secure even faster access to the latest innovations for British patients. So we are already taking action to ensure the UK continues to be a world leader and our cross-agency Brexit taskforce is considering the future regulatory roles the MHRA could adopt."

But the SNP’s health spokeswoman, Philippa Whitford, said that the EU’s single market encompasses more than just trade, and she stressed that European healthcare is something that has been less of a priority for the Brexiteers and the government. She said on Today: "We keep using the shorthand 'single market', giving the impression that the EU is only about trade. The thing that frightened me the most was when I asked Theresa May about this at Prime Minister's Questions, she looked utterly blank. That suggests to me the European Medicines Agency is not high enough up her agenda."