Cancer research must not be put in jeopardy by Brexit
29 September 2017
I spoke with Cancer Research UK at Labour Party conference this week. We discussed how their target of increasing cancer survival rates can be better achieved through working collaboratively with European partners - something that is under threat in light of Brexit. In Yorkshire and the Humber, an estimated 102,636 lives are lost to cancer every year - one of the worst affected regions in the country. If we are to achieve higher survival rates, the government must take immediate action to ensure that the field of cancer research is not seriously damaged because of Brexit.
We already know that the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which fast-tracks new cancer and other drugs onto the market and pools reports on any potential problems, will move from the UK after Brexit. It's vital that the UK has regulatory alignment with the EMA so cancer patients get access to the drugs they need without delay. Regulatory alignment also enables lifesaving EU wide collaborations to place in multiple areas from clinical trials to data sharing. This is particularly important for research into rare and children’s cancers, where patient numbers are low.
Access to funding is also important. The UK was one of the biggest recipients of Horizon 2020 funds- the EU's science and technology funding pot. Currently, more than 25% of the trials that Cancer Research UK funds involve at least one other EU country, with nearly 50% of all UK cancer research involving international collaboration. While the government’s Brexit paper looking at collaboration in science and innovation said it supported cooperation in this area, it did not address the issue that post-Brexit, even if we are allowed to pay into the EU’s science budget, we will have to pay more and would get less back. There was no clarification in the paper on how the funding gap would be filled.
Similarly, the government needs to give guarantees so that Britain can still attract the best and the brightest to work in this area. This means the mobility of both UK and EU researchers, lab technicians and other health workers and their families' needs to be protected post Brexit.
Given that 1 in 2 of us in the UK will get cancer at some stage in our lives, we can ill afford to turn back the clock in fighting cancer and increasing survival rates.