Hunt under pressure over plans to quit EMA

Pleas are being made for the UK to remain aligned with the European Medicines Agency drug approvals, after warnings that Brexit could delay access to new medicines.

Prime minister Theresa May signalled earlier this month that the UK would seek a complete break with the EU – something that would virtually guarantee the EMA would have to relocate from London.

It is also likely to mean that the UK would have to approve drugs independently of the EMA, which currently approves drugs for all current 28 EU member states, plus Iceland, and Leichtenstein and Norway.

Shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, has written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, saying that failing to keep the EMA in London is “reckless” and could lead to a “damaging” loss of jobs.

The UK pharmaceutical industry had expressed concerns before the Brexit vote last June that UK residents could face longer waits to get life-saving treatments.

While the industry is lobbying to retain as close ties as possible behind the scenes, Jonathan Ashworth is publicly calling for a solution.

“If we leave the EMA we could, like Canada and Australia, have to wait for many months before being able to buy drugs already available in bigger markets like the EU and the United States,” said Ashworth.

Industry association the ABPI has also warned that Brexit could have a negative impact on access to medicines, and discourage clinical research in the UK.

Ashworth’s intervention follows an evidence session last week on the impact of Brexit on health, where MPs from the Health Committee grilled Hunt about the whether the UK could remain part of the EMA.

Hunt told the MPs he doesn’t expect the UK to remain within the EMA group. This is likely to mean that the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency takes over the main regulatory role.

This could nevertheless mean that the UK would have to wait longer for drug launches, as the remaining EMA bloc would remain a priority.

Hunt said it was likely the EU countries will want to move the EMA headquarters from London, but added:

“I will be arguing for the closest possible regulatory equivalence between the regime that we have and the regime that currently exists with the EMA,” said Hunt.

But he said the government did not want to be part of the EMA itself as this could make the subject to EU laws.

“We would not argue for anything that would mean we are subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice,” said Hunt.

Scottish Nationalist MP Dr Philippa Whitford  raised concerns with Hunt that the UK could join a “second rank” of countries in terms of access to medicines.

 

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