Skip to main content

Brexit: Medical Research and Innovation

Volume 776: debated on Monday 21 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the numbers of European Union scientists working on British research programmes, what assessment they have made of the impact of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union on medical research and innovation.

The Government are looking at more than 50 sectors and at the cross-cutting regulatory issues to build a detailed understanding of how withdrawing from the European Union will impact on the UK, including in the important area of medical research and innovation. The recently formed UK EU Life Sciences Steering Group is engaging with a wide range of stakeholders to help us ensure a positive outcome for this sector and for UK science.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. Does she appreciate that what medical researchers in the UK really want to know is what is going to happen after Horizon 2020? Are the Government aware of the risk that there will be to the great progress now being made by UK researchers working with European teams, networks and funding in, for example, the treatment of cancer and rare diseases? If those researchers are excluded from the next research framework, Framework Programme 9, that progress will come to a halt. In short, can she say what specific plans the Government have to ensure that we are not excluded from framework 9?

My Lords, it is too early to speculate on our future relationship with Horizon 2020 and its successor programme, No. 9—I am assured that it is going to be given a better name. Whatever happens in the future, we are committed to ensuring that the UK continues to be a world leader in international research and innovation and that collaboration with Europe and others continues. Separately, and as part of our industrial strategy, the Prime Minister has today announced a substantial real-terms increase in government investment in R&D worth £2 billion per year by 2020 as well as a new industrial strategy challenge fund which will also help medical innovation. This is good news.

My Lords, perhaps I may remind the House of my interest in this area. The Minister in the other place said in June that the life sciences industry was worth around £60 billion a year to the UK and supports some 220,000 jobs, We in this House know that the role of the industry in promoting better patient outcomes through clinical research is absolutely vital. Is the Minister able to give us some reassurance that regulation will be put on a more even footing in the future, and will the Government commit to signing up to the agreed 2014 clinical trials regulations when they come into effect in 2018?

I entirely agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of our unique life science industries. Regarding the clinical trials regulation, preparations are continuing to implement that regulation in 2018 because we remain in the EU while negotiations continue. Of course, a great repeal Bill will come before Parliament after the next Queen’s Speech. That will end the authority of EU law and return power to the UK, but we will transpose current EU law into domestic law while allowing for amendments to take account of the future negotiated UK-EU relationship in this and other areas.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that if we are to succeed in medical science research and innovation we need more home-grown science and maths graduates? That requires more science and maths teachers in our schools. Is she aware that teacher training targets are being missed, that vacancies are rising, that retention rates are falling, and that now more than a quarter of maths and science teachers have no relevant post A-level qualifications? What action are the Government taking?

The situation on STEM teaching is incredibly important. Indeed, thinking about our skills and how they relate to our industrial base, and our research and innovation will be a key strand of our industrial strategy, on which we will issue a consultation paper this side of Christmas.

My Lords, is it not inevitable that we will lose the European Medicines Agency in Canary Wharf, with its consequent expertise and jobs?

All I can do is repeat that it is too early to speculate on detailed issues such as the future of the European Medicines Agency, but our approach remains to be fully open and supportive of scientists, researchers and our medical strength. This is particularly famous in the UK because of the National Health Service, which provides such a good base for our medical and pharmaceutical industries.

Is my noble friend aware that one has only to go up to Cambridge and look at the number of start-up companies that are there, then open up the file on the new companies dealing with medical discovery going on the AIM market, to have some considerable reassurance that the industry is confident of the future, recognises that there will be some transitional challenges but, as before we joined the EU, will continue to be a leader in medical research?

I entirely agree with my noble friend. The fund for backing priority technologies, which we have announced today, will further support the UK’s potential to turn strengths in research into a global, industrial and commercial lead.

My Lords, I declare an interest as professor of surgery at University College London and business ambassador for healthcare and life sciences. The announcement of £2 billion a year of additional funding to support research and development is most welcome, but are Her Majesty’s Government able to confirm that that funding, in addition to driving an industrial strategy in this area, will be delivered through the activities of the research councils, secure excellence in terms of the purpose of research funding, and be used to ensure the ongoing participation of our great institutions in global collaborative networks, which are vital for the delivery of excellent science?

I entirely agree with the noble Lord on the excellence of our research and development base, and on the great work being done by the research councils. I look forward to debating the way forward when the Bill on education and research reaches this House in the coming weeks. New funding has been made available today. This vision and direction of travel is excellent news for our science and research base in every part of the country.

My Lords, the Minister ducked the question on the European Medicines Agency. Will she answer a question about the MHRA, the UK medicines regulator, which is regarded as the finest regulator in Europe and is one factor behind the large investment in medical research in the UK? In the Brexit negotiations, will she ensure that there is mutual recognition, so that medicines licensed by the MHRA will continue to be recognised throughout Europe?

I will feed the noble Lord’s suggestion into the process that is going on to make sure that we get the best deal in the Brexit negotiations on all these issues. He will know that Jo Johnson has a set up a forum with senior representatives of UK Research and Innovation to look at such matters, and that work continues in the Department of Health. This is a very important area. A lot of the detail is complex, but we are aware of that and, as I said in my opening comment, a great deal of work is going on.