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At 11pm on Friday 31st January, the UK left the European Union. It’s a day that’s dominated UK politics for almost 4 years, and now it’s arrived the question becomes – what happens next?
In short, very little will change in the first few months.
That’s because while the UK will no longer be part of the EU, it’s set to enter a post-Brexit transition period. And during this period, which is due to last until 31st December 2020, negotiators from the UK and EU will decide what our future relationship with the EU will look like.
While these talks are happening, most EU rules will continue to apply in the UK. Travel and trade to and from EU countries, for example, will stay largely the same as when the UK was an EU member.
If the talks are successful and a deal is agreed, the ‘new relationship’ is due to start on 1st January 2021. And that’s when the biggest changes are likely to happen, including some that could impact cancer research and patients.
Here are some of the key issues that we want prioritised during post-Brexit talks.
Continuing to collaborate on clinical trials
Right now, the UK and EU work together very closely on trials. Around 3 in 10 Cancer Research UK-supported trials take place with a country in the EU, and there were 4,800 trials between 2004 and 2016 that involved the UK and other EU countries.
These international trials are particularly important for testing new treatments in rare and childhood cancers, where there may not be enough people to take part in a single country.
It’s vital that any future relationship continues this collaboration, which means ensuring the UK and EU have compatible rules on how trials are run.
The EU is bringing in new rules for how trials are run through a Clinical Trial Regulation. The changes are popular with researchers, who believe they’re a big upgrade on the current system.
We want UK Government to look at becoming a part of the new system – including negotiating access to the Regulation’s new database, which will make setting up UK-EU trials safer and easier.
Getting access to the newest treatments
Another key post-Brexit issue is ensuring people in the UK get access to the newest treatments without delays. And that means looking at how drugs are licensed.
When we were a part of the EU, the UK worked closely with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to assess if new medicines were safe and effective. This was a mutually beneficial relationship – the EMA benefits from the UK’s expertise though our own national medicines regulator, the MHRA. And people in the UK benefit too – the EMA is responsible for an area worth about 22% of the global pharmaceutical market, the UK on its own is worth only 3%.
There are concerns that a split from the EMA could introduce delays in the UK, with pharmaceutical companies going to the bigger European market first, and to the UK second.
It’s in everyone’s interest for the UK and the EMA establish a new way of working post Brexit and continue to work together closely on the testing and licensing of new medicines.
Attracting top scientists from around the world
We’ve blogged before about how important it is for researchers to move between countries to live and work. It’s essential this can continue.
To stay at the forefront of cancer research, the UK needs to attract talent from across the globe 🌏 We spoke to our scientist Ines about her experience of moving to the UK to pursue her science career 👩🔬 https://t.co/DZFm225bJk pic.twitter.com/FM1PPiCl49
— Cancer Research UK (@CR_UK) November 6, 2019
Half of our PhD students aren’t originally from the UK. And this flow works both ways – 72% of UK-based researchers have spent time at an institution outside the UK between 1996 and 2015, building both their expertise and crucial links with international partners.
To enable this to continue, the UK Government must design an immigration system that allows us to attract, recruit and retain researchers from all around the world. But the future UK-EU relationship will also be important.
As Freedom of Movement ends, the UK and EU will need to decide new rules for how researchers can travel between countries. There have been some promising signs that the Government understands how necessary this is, but the next step is to protect researchers’ ability to move across borders to work on vital shared projects like clinical trials.
Collaborating across borders
It’s not just trials that benefit from collaboration across borders.
Shared research programmes – where scientists in the UK and their partners in the EU work together – are not only a source of funding for UK researchers, they also help build the cross-border collaboration which is so important for medical research.
And while Cancer Research UK doesn’t directly receive money from these EU funding schemes, we know how valuable they are for building a world-leading research environment in the UK. And we think UK research should continue to benefit from them after Brexit.
That’s why we’ll be pushing for Government to seek access to big European research projects, like the forthcoming Horizon Europe – which is worth about £80 billion over the next 7 years.
Brexit day has been the source of intense discussion for the past 4 years. But when it comes to determining our future relationship with the EU, it’s just the beginning.
A lot remains to be worked out over the next 11 months. And we’ll be working with people in the UK and across Europe to ensure the issues that matter for patients and research are brought to the table, and that the new relationship is one that helps us drive progress against cancer.
Mark Heffernan is an EU public affairs manager at Cancer Research UK
Lindsay Mclaughlin March 8, 2020
to those who ask why this wasn’t made known before the referendum, there was no talk of a ‘no deal’ option till after the referendum. ‘the easiest deal in history’ etc, so how were people going to warn of something which wasn’t expected to happen? it was flagged up very early after ‘no deal’ was offered as a possibility that these would be some of the consequences of leaving the EU – delays in getting vital isotopes which are not made in the UK, being down the list for new drugs, and shortages of drugs imported from the EU. and again, and again. with the new immigration policies and loss of freedom of movement within the EU, naturally there are major worries about the retention of of expertise, and sharing information.
Stephen Hamilton February 28, 2020
We are World Leaders in all Research and I have complete faith and confidence in our commitment to Health Care /NHS so I believe the EU should be requesting access to our research. Stop putting us down, I know everything helps but if the EU puts Health Research as a bargaining chip they have no dignity. Why do you put out news letters like this. I’m considering cancelling my donations.
Mrs June Bilton February 14, 2020
I passionately think the answer is in the slogan together we will beat cancer having lost a much loved husband and many members of my family to this terrible disease I have cause to appreciate the research teams as my youngest daughter has fought and won ovarian cancer.So Politicians should be mindful this is a People fight not a Political one and I will continue to support as I have done for many years.
Gill Morrison February 11, 2020
I donate to Cancer Research UK and was worried that leaving the EU might jeopardise valuable collaboration with the EU. Why weren’t all these issues included in the Pro Remain campaign before the referendum?
Colleen Hughes February 10, 2020
Quite worrying We weren’t made aware of all Bexit entailed I’m afraid
Margaret Bremner February 9, 2020
Links between the EU and the UK MUST continue post-Brexit — for cancer treatment, medication and collaboration between cancer experts. The UK would lose out if this doesn’t happen.and most people don’t know this. Actually Brexit should never have happened.
I regularly donate to Cancer Research UK
SandyG February 9, 2020
I agree with Mrs Hale – why does this information only come out after the referendum????? People really did not have the right information to be able to vote sensibly. Well we now have to work with the situation we are in. I sincerely hope that we can continue with the wonderful work that Cancer Research do and that we are not hindered by leaving the EU.
Tricia Snow February 9, 2020
That is really helpful. I genuinely believe the government has no idea these issues exist . Extremely important to lobby to make sure they are considered in any future agreements
Alex Coppock-Bunce February 9, 2020
It was amazing how each time I brought these issues up with Brexiteers they didn’t care.
Gill Wilson February 9, 2020
I too so much agree with the earlier comments from Mrs Hale. Why weren’t we told about such issues to help us decide on a yes or no in the referendum. I have supported Cancer Research for many years and will continue to to do so, it is the charity which is the most important to me.
Richard Rae February 9, 2020
Brexit is a catastrophe is so many ways. Leaving without a ‘deal’ – as is still very possible – would have truly appalling consequences.
Penny Anderson February 8, 2020
It is extremely sad and worrying that the excellent and essential work of Cancer Research could be affected detrimentally in so many ways because of Brexit. We can only hope that those negotiating the new relationships are knowledgeable, well informed and passionate about the need for maintaining as close ties as possible in order to minimise the negative impacts. After all, this isn’t just politics, it is people’s lives.
David Patterson February 8, 2020
Another area that wasn’t considered before the referendum.Size does matter when it comes to research.All supporters of your organisation who live in Tory Parlimentary seats should be encouraged to press the government to ensure cross boarder research continues unfettered.
Rosemary Smith February 7, 2020
As a Cancer Patient I believe so many advantages of remaining a member of the EU in terms of Medical and Research Benefits were not clearly explained prior to the Referendum.
Fenwick Kirton-Darling February 7, 2020
I understand that many radioactive sources used in cancer treatment come from the Netherlands. How will that be affected by Brexit?
Mark Heffernan February 11, 2020
Thanks for your question about how radioactive sources used in cancer treatment may be affected by Brexit.
The flow of medical isotopes, which can be used to detect or treat cancer, will not be disrupted during the ‘transition period’ the UK has now entered, due to run until 31 December 2020.
And after this transition, we want to see a future relationship that ensures there are no delay in accessing treatments, including those requiring isotopes, or the supply of isotopes for cancer diagnosis.
It’s also worth mentioning that ahead of previous ‘no deal’ deadlines, the UK Government made plans to safeguard the supply of medicines and medical products, including isotopes. And should similar preparations be needed at the end of 2020, we will work to ensure they include plans to minimise any disruption to patients.
Mark, Cancer Research UK
Mrs Hale February 7, 2020
I’m really annoyed that organisations like yours did not speak up before the referendum. Instead you are adding to the increasing uncertainty of the future this country is facing. Anxiety contributes to cancer problems. I have lost my parents and other family members to cancer and will continue to support your work but there is little I can do to prevent the problems you are now facing.
Richard Billingsley February 7, 2020
A very informative article which shows some of the effects of Brexit not generally known.