Hugo Fry, Managing Director, Sanofi UK, details the challenges and opportunities in a post Brexit landscape
For the last two years, Sanofi, along with thousands of companies across hundreds of industries, dedicated many hours preparing for the UK to leave the European Union. The main focus of all this work was to ensure we did all we could to limit the impact for people across the UK, and other parts of the world, who rely on access to our products.
Much of that activity, especially for the pharmaceutical industry was on stockpiling. Since the 29 March 2019 passed with no departure, we have been asked many times how we will manage that stockpile going forward and how long we can continue to keep it at the additional levels required by the Government. Our plans had always been to maintain the additional level of stock for around 12 months, which we have been able to extend as the leave date has changed to October, and possibly January 2020. So, providing we leave the EU in October, as is now expected, there is no need for additional plans. And, of course, additional stockpiling was an action taken to manage the situation if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. If an agreement is negotiated, there will be no need for mitigating plans to protect against disruption to the flow of medicines and vaccines in and out of the UK. However, without doubt, the biggest concern for us is the continued uncertainty. Once we know what we are facing in the longer term, then we can work to ensure our treatments can continue to reach people in the UK as quickly as possible; both existing medicines and vaccines and also those in our pipeline and beyond.
Our focus is increasingly turning to the impact beyond Brexit. One of these focal points, is the need to ensure that the UK remains a leader in innovation. Access to world class research and development, and the ability to attract the best talent, is essential to any global organisation who wants to remain competitive in the 21st century.
The UK is currently a hotbed for medical innovation. We have world leading universities, a highly-skilled workforce and have made discoveries that have a huge impact for people and patients all across the world. However, it is crucial that we maintain momentum. We must collaborate across government, businesses and academia to ensure that the UK can maintain its position as a leader in world class research and development, especially as we move forward in a post Brexit landscape.
Another area of focus is the regulatory process and how that will work when we are no longer part of the European Medicines Agency process. At Sanofi, we believe that there is potential for exciting and encouraging regulatory processes which could support the UK to remain as a leader in innovation. We recently worked with the UK regulatory body, the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on a fast track national review of one of our vaccines. The process took just seven months, compared with a standard review time of 12 months for national approvals. This expedited process showed that MHRA can be flexible and agile in their ways of working and could provide opportunities for faster product approvals when the UK leaves the EU. So, whilst we know there are challenges ahead for our industry as well as many others in the UK, we feel confident that there will also be opportunities.
With over 1,200 employees based here, we recently announced that we will be opening a new head office based in Reading in the Summer of 2019. This investment shows that Sanofi is absolutely committed to the UK and see it is a key market in achieving our mission to protect, enable and support people on their health journey. What is critical now is that all the players in the life sciences ecosystem work together to support investment in homegrown innovation.