The Government has set out its aims for the UK’s scientific relationship with the EU following Brexit.
The Department for Exiting the European Union has published a report outlining how it still wants collaboration on issues including clinical trials and research funding.
While the focus on science was welcomed, many in the sector called for more detail.
Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said that the report’s focus on scientific collaboration is essential, and that details of future clinical trials and immigration should be agreed quickly.
“Clear priorities must be an aligned regulatory system for clinical trials, and a migration system that attracts global scientific talent and supports collaboration,” she added.
The report is one of a series setting out the Government’s position on key areas being negotiated around Brexit.
It follows calls from members of the scientific community to protect rules that allow researcher migration, funding agreements and partnership with regulatory bodies, so that the sector’s positive contribution to the economy and patients can continue.
“When scientists from the UK and the EU work together they have greater impact, particularly in medical research, which ultimately benefits patients across the EU and beyond,” said Greenwood.
The report recognises the importance of funding programmes such as Horizon 2020, and again commits to funding applications submitted while the UK is part of the EU, if necessary.
Collaboration on clinical trials and a strong relationship with the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the EU body that ensures the safety and quality of medicines, are also vital to ensure that patients get access to the best treatments.
On these points, the report states an aim “to continue to work closely with the EMA and other international partners”, in place of our current status as a member.
Greenwood added that more than a quarter of Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials involve a European partner.
“This is important for trials testing new treatments for rare or childhood cancers where studies require a cross-EU approach,” she said. “So it’s critical that our ability to participate and lead international research projects is upheld as negotiations on our future relationship with the EU continue.
Professor Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, said that while the paper is just a first step, it was encouraging in both its tone and aspiration.
“Much needs to be done to work out the conditions that ensure our continued close collaboration with the EU,” he said. “That is necessary to dispel the uncertainty that continues to pose a threat to our position as a global scientific power.”
He also said that there should be a commitment to future funding programmes, as well as guarantees about the status of the highly skilled EU researchers already working here.
Professor Sir Robert Lechler, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, also called for further detail as soon as possible to ensure UK science and innovation doesn’t suffer.
“Funding is only one part of the picture. Arguably the most important factor in determining the strength of UK science is our ability to recruit and retain the brightest and best minds and to collaborate effectively across borders,” he said.
“In addition, in a post-Brexit era we will need a regulatory system that facilitates collaboration between the UK and Europe across discovery science, clinical trials and beyond, and ensures that patients continue to benefit from new discoveries.
In response the EU’s research commissioner, Carlos Moedas, said that he was sure that solutions would be found in science, as well as other areas. “We have to have a relationship that works.”
Department for Exiting the European Union (2017) Collaboration on science and innovation: a future partnership paper