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Brexit - A focus on the life sciences legal sector

Posted by: Nicola Walker 09/08/16
For the life sciences arena in the UK, the uncertainty brought about by the vote for Brexit is certainly gaining momentum, not least in the compliance and regulatory field. Arguably the biggest impact could by the country’s loss of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which is currently headquartered in Canary Wharf. As the main regulatory body for EU drug registration, a move out of London could see the city, and the UK in general, suffer a loss of talent, as specialists follow the EMA across borders.

However, in the coming years the decision to leave the EU also presents numerous challenges to specialist law professionals within life sciences to work on the renegotiation of legislation, depending on the style of Brexit deals that take place.

If, for example, the decision was taken for the UK pharma sector to trade under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, the country would be able to set its own regulatory regime. This would, of course, lead to a rise in demand for specialist life sciences legal professionals to manage any change that comes about as a result.

Another potential approach to Brexit negotiations would be to follow the example of Switzerland by producing a series of mutual recognition agreements for medical products and devices. Given that the UK’s governance of the life sciences field is respected across most of Europe, this option shouldn’t prove too difficult to implement. Again, such steps would require input from, and demand for, expert legal advice, leading to a greater need for specialist law teams.

For the moment, hiring remains stable in the Life Sciences sector, though healthcare charities may well feel under threat from a lack of future EU grants. The industry as a whole is preparing for this and more open to interim options than in the past. Life Sciences is safer, especially the “big pharma” global players. The more vulnerable start-up biotech companies from the US expanding in Europe have started cost reduction activities and are looking at potentially pulling products out of Europe post Brexit. This might mean leaner legal teams for small-medium sized companies but again, still on tenterhooks until Article 50 is triggered.

Of course the above is speculation and until Article 50 is set in motion and until negotiations begin it will be impossible to define just how the legal landscape will change within the UK’s pharma and life sciences arena. What is certain, though, is that there will be change in some form to laws and regulation that will drive demand for specialist legal compliance talent.
Tagged In: Europe, UK
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