The UK’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, published an update on 16 January to pharmaceutical companies on preparations for Brexit. The information highlighted the guidelines that have been adopted by the European Council when it was agreed that sufficient progress has been made to move on to the second stage of negotiations. The guidelines reconfirm the EU’s desire to establish a close future partnership with the UK.
The UK’s position on medicines regulation remains clear; the UK is fully committed to continuing the close working relationship with its European partners, in the interests of health and safety. It aims to ensure that patients in the UK and across the EU continue to be able to access the best and most innovative medicines and be assured that their safety is protected through the strongest regulatory framework and sharing of data. Further, the UK intends to secure an implementation period based on the existing structure of EU rules and regulations as soon as possible and also plans to agree “a deep and special future partnership”.
However, should there be no implementation period with the EU, the MHRA suggests there would be no sudden changes to the UK regulatory framework as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will convert the existing EU legislative framework into the law at the moment of exit. The MHRA also said it will be “pragmatic” in establishing UK regulatory requirements, giving enough notice to allow companies to implement any change. The MHRA would make use of information they already have to complete administrative tasks to ensure continuity of work and licences and build on the existing relationship between MHRA and firms ensuring minimum disruption and burden on companies.
The MHRA has emphasised that the UK’s current regulatory relationship with the European network is unchanged as it is still a full member of the EU and expects to be treated as such.
Brexit Planning for Life Sciences by UK Government
On 23 January, the UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt sought to reassure MPs about Brexit contingency planning. However, declining to give specifics about the no-deal contingency planning for the life science industry, Hunt stated the reason was to maintain “strategic ambiguity” so that the UK government could procure the best deal possible with the EU, rather than a lack of transparency.
NHS Confederation Warnings of Market Access Delays
Industry has said that it needs at least a two-year transition period after March 2019 due to complex regulatory requirements and has been waiting for more guidance from regulators and policymakers about when to implement transition plans. There is a fear that companies run the risk of drug delays and shortages if they do not act quickly. According to a report published on 29 January from the Brexit Health Alliance – a coalition of doctors, NHS bosses and pharma companies – patients could face long delays obtaining new drugs or be denied access to them altogether as a result of Brexit. The report warns that the NHS may find itself unable to access newly developed medications for up to a year compared with the other 27 EU nations once Britain leaves in March next year.
EMA Survey of UK Pharma
In order to minimise such disruption, and to help ‘nudge’ companies who have not yet taken any action to start planning for any regulatory steps required for centrally-authorised products to remain on the EU market post-Brexit, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced on 23 January that it is sending a questionnaire to pharma companies located in the UK to check what their post Brexit plans are. The results of this survey will drive EMA’s own contingency planning.
Milanese Challenge to EMA’s Amsterdam Relocation
Separately, it was announced on 31 January by a court spokesperson that cases have been filed by both the Italian government and the municipality of Milan at the Court of Justice of the European Union asking for the decision of relocating the EMA to Amsterdam to be annulled. The Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, and the Mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, previously announced their intention to reopen the decision after the EMA boss Guido Rasi said that the temporary building offered by the Dutch authorities to use until the permanent building is ready was not “optimal”. Italy argues that the Netherlands is not able to fulfil the commitments it made in its application for the EMA. Milan’s bid to host the agency narrowly lost to Amsterdam, when a tied vote led to the drawing of lots.
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