UK pharma pessimism over Brexit deepens as government admits sector could be among worst hit

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According to a new survey, 83% of UK pharmaceutical professionals say the UK will not be an attractive destination for healthcare research and manufacturing after Brexit.

The news coincides with new economic analysis from the UK government which admits that any form of Brexit will hit the economy, with pharma being among the hardest hit even if there is a no-deal exit.

Industry analysts GlobalData conducted quarterly Brexit surveys of pharmaceutical industry professionals in the UK, Europe and the US in 2018, and the latest survey in the third quarter shows a significant drop in sentiment.

Confidence has fallen sharply from a high of 48% who said the UK would be an attractive destination in Q1 2018, to a low of just 17% who said it would be in the latest survey.

The inquiry comes days before a crucial vote in the House of Commons on December 11, when Prime Minister Theresa May will seek the support of MPs for her now-agreed deal with the EU.

However, it seems almost certain that it will be rejected by the Commons, leaving all parties to prepare for several scenarios – from a tweaking of the deal to a second referendum or even a no-deal Brexit. It’s something that businesses and economists have warned of, and the Tories and Labor have both said they will try to avoid, but the political deadlock means it remains a real possibility.

Commenting on the survey results, Alexandra Annis, MS, Healthcare Management Analyst at GlobalData, said:

“Sentiment on this issue has potentially been affected by the sheer amount of negative press associated with the likely impact of Brexit on the healthcare sector over the past three months. Stories such as the NHS forcing drugmakers to stockpiling drugs ahead of a ‘no deal’ Brexit and pharma companies like Sanofi and Novartis increasing drug stocks, and AstraZeneca halting UK investment due to Brexit uncertainties likely played a role in the negative impact on the trust of industry professionals in the UK.”

According to GlobalData, the biggest difference in attitude towards Brexit is seen in the United States, where respondents seemed less concerned about the potential negative impacts. Less than 20% of UK and EU respondents see the UK as an attractive post-Brexit healthcare research and manufacturing destination, while pharma professionals in United States is more optimistic, with 38% believing this will be the case.

This will be good news for the UK government, which is trying to keep foreign investment coming into the country from the sector, despite the huge uncertainty caused by Brexit.

The government is believed to have an updated deal for the life sciences sector ready to be announced – but the benefits of it could be overshadowed by Brexit and its potential outcomes. This could include the UK leaving the EU regulatory structure altogether, including aligning the EMA in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Government outspoken on economic impact

After long evading questions about the economic impact of Brexit, the government this week produced a candid assessment of the effects of the various Brexit outcomes.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said that compared to staying in the EU, any form of Brexit would make the UK’s financial situation worse, but said the deal brokered in May “minimizes the economic impact while delivering political benefits”.

The long-term economic analysis of EU exit that accompanies it also suggested that pharmaceuticals (as part of a grouping of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, rubber and plastics) would be particularly affected. by a no-deal Brexit.

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