Brexit Rejig: UK Taps Three Leaders to Helm Office for Life Sciences

By Zachary Brennan

The UK’s Office for Life Sciences, which will continue to be a joint unit across the Department of Health (DH) and the newly formed Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), on Thursday selected three new ministers to lead.

In the DH, two ministers will be jointly responsible for life sciences, including:

  • Lord Prior of Brampton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health and former adviser to the health authority of Abu Dhabi, who will lead on life science industrial strategy, the Accelerated Access Review, “making a success of leaving the European Union,” and the biopharmaceutical and medical technology industry
  • Nicola Blackwood, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health and Innovation, meanwhile, will lead on genomics, data, digital health and emerging health technologies.

In addition, Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science, will be responsible for the BEIS life science industrial strategy and will work with Greg Clark, BEIS Secretary of State, to oversee the UK’s drive to lead in global science.

The announcement of the new appointments also highlights the recent deal between UK-based GlaxoSmithKline and Google’s Verily, which announced a £540 million investment into a new company that will be known as Galvani Bioelectronics, with research sites in San Francisco and the UK.

Brexit Plans

As far as the UK’s transition out of the EU and European Medicines Agency (EMA), the announcement notes the creation of a UK/EU steering group to oversee and manage a program of work to inform the transition.

“This group, aligned with the Ministerial Industry Strategy Group, is gathering views from a variety of stakeholders across the sector. The group will provide recommendations and considerations for how the UK can seize the opportunity to define for the sector a new relationship with the EU,” the announcement says.

The appointment of the three ministers comes as GSK’s former CEO Sir Andrew Witty says that the UK’s departure from the EMA and EMA’s relocation from London, which EMA has already said will be decided by member states, would add a significant burden to pharmaceutical companies looking to bring new medicines into the UK.

“Just to be blunt you would have to file two different submissions so it is obvious that you have doubled the amount of work,” Witty said, according to the Guardian. “Might the new UK organisation be able to do things differently and more quickly than Europe? Maybe... Those discussions haven’t started yet.”