The Sunday Telegraph

‘Brexit freedoms wasted’ as drug trials stifled by red tape

- By Michael Searles

BRITAIN is squanderin­g its Brexit freedoms as drug trials and approvals are bogged down in red tape, a pharmaceut­ical chief has told The Telegraph.

Dr Fiona Marshall, president of biomedical research at pharmaceut­ical giant Novartis, warned that the UK was yet to utilise its post-Brexit potential to become a global life sciences superpower. She worked with Boris Johnson and Prof Sir John Bell on the life science vision team that outlined plans for postBrexit Britain to deliver faster clinical trials and easier access to drugs for patients.

But those ambitions are yet to materialis­e, she said, because of regulatory red tape, constraine­d NHS capacity and a loss of expert clinical pharmacolo­gists, which has resulted in companies increasing­ly turning to Germany, Spain and Switzerlan­d to innovate.

Dr Marshall said the “UK has many unique attributes, the NHS being one of them”, but that there had been “disappoint­ing trends that we have seen post Brexit”. “During Brexit there was a lot of aspiration that the UK would be showing a leadership position in regulation with the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) having the ability to really bring forward accelerate­d drug approval,” she said.

“I think that is still an aspiration, but it certainly hasn’t happened in practice. We’ve actually seen the reverse, a big backlog with the MHRA and a decline in the number of clinical trials that are being run. The UK really used to be, and still has the potential to be, a leader in innovative clinical trials.”

Since 2018, the number of trials being conducted in the UK has decreased. The number of patients enrolled in studies dropped by almost half between 2017-18 and 2021-22, according to the Associatio­n of the British Pharmaceut­ical Industry (ABPI).

These 140 industry clinical trials put the UK 10th globally, down from fourth just four years earlier, and behind the likes of Japan, Canada, France and Italy.

Dr Marshall said the pressure on the NHS with record-high waiting lists and pressure on emergency services meant the “ability to run clinical trials has decreased”.

The Department of Health and Social Care was approached for comment.

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