UK patients 'could face two-year wait for new drugs' after Brexit

British patients could face a longer wait for new drugs after the UK pulls out of the European Union, experts have warned.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said he does not expect the UK after Brexit to remain within the European Medicines Agency, which evaluates applications to market new drugs across the EU.

A former chairman of the UK's medical regulator said that if pharmaceutical firms had to obtain separate permissions for Britain, they were likely to prioritise EMA applications for access to the much larger European market.

And a drug company executive suggested the UK would be in the "second or third wave" for new drugs - after Europe, the USA and Japan - leading to delays of as much as 24 months.

Sir Alasdair Breckenridge - who was chairman of the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for almost a decade - told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "The UK market compared to the European market, of course, is small, so therefore there will be a delay in getting new drugs - important new drugs, anti-cancer drugs, anti-infective drugs - for patients in the United Kingdom.

"Since there's going to be a second application as well as the European application, the cost will be greater."

And David Jeffreys, vice-president of Eisai - a Japanese drugs firm that employs 450 people in the UK - said British patients could face delays of up to two years.

He said: "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."

Scottish National Party health spokeswoman Philippa Whitford, a consultant surgeon, told 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."

Dr Whitford added: "Jeremy Hunt is not on the Brexit cabinet (committee) and therefore health is not being seen as core to this. All the things we've had - the health insurance card, the right of pensioners to have healthcare in Europe - need to be recognised and put on the table."


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