Brexit briefing on Life Sciences and science funding

I believe we must be able to recruit and retain the very best scientists, whatever country they come from, including  freedom of movement for international students. But the  plan B for the life science  sector if  this does not happen is far from clear.


While the Government claim they would honour any EU funding for projects already funded up until 2020, they say nothing about new projects or what would happen after then.


Even so, that won’t  save  the 900 London jobs in  the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the largest EU body in Britain, fostering “scientific excellence” in the supervision of medicines. Ireland is already pitching Dublin as its new post Brexit headquarters.





  • More research papers are generated here than in any other city in the world after Boston, the home of Harvard University.


  • More than 50,000 students are studying medicine and the NHS is investing £800m in clinical research between 2012-17. The Imperial Centre for Translational and Experimental Medicine is developing new treatments and conducting clinical trials.


  • 48 Nobel Prize science Laureates have links with London universities.


  • London has a ‘joined up’ ecosystem of research, public and private investment, international companies and skills.


  • EU support for science goes well beyond funding. Free movement of skills and ideas is especially important in science.


  • More than half of the Post Doctoral researchers in the new £700m Crick Institute in King’s cross   are from the EU.


  • Over the last five years London has attracted 35 major new life sciences foreign investment projects, bringing   more than £330m and over 1,300 new jobs.





Over the next 20 years, MedCity a collaboration between the Mayor and London’s three Academic Health Science Centres – Imperial , King’s , and UCL-   to promote  life sciences investment, entrepreneurship and industry aims to position London and the south east of England as a world-leading, interconnected region for life sciences research, development, manufacturing and commercialisation to stimulate greater economic growth.


But  much of this depends on securing a good deal from the EU.



EU Research funding


  • The UK does disproportionately well in securing EU research funding, securing 15.5 per cent of the funding allocated under the last programme (FP7). Of all 28 Member States, only the Netherlands receives a higher proportion of funding relative to GDP and population size.[1]


  • All the UK’s universities came out against Brexit.



Increasing internationalisation of research


  • Since the 1980s, global research has become rapidly more international. The prevalence of scientific research papers co-authored by researchers from more than one country has risen sharply.[2]


  • Since 1981, the UK has risen from 15 per cent of its papers being international (and 85 per cent domestic authors only) to over 50 per cent international today. In fact, almost all the growth in UK output is in the form of international collaborations.[3]



The Francis Crick Institute


‘The Francis Crick Institute in King’s Cross is the UK’s globally-leading scientific discovery institute. They employ and collaborate with the best scientists from around the UK and the world. More than 60% of their laboratory scientists originate from outside the UK and many of their  scientists have been successful in obtaining EU grants.


The Crick’s concerns cut across London’s economy generally as science overlaps with industry and environment, with international standards being vital to operation.  The Crick says:


  • We must be able to recruit and retain the very best scientists, whatever country they come from.


  • Movement from country to country must be simple in order to enable the collaboration between scientists that is essential for discovery science.


  • We must negotiate the best possible access to EU research funding.



Brexit uncertainty


  • Recent Government talk of ‘hard Brexit’ implying that the UK would prioritise immigration restrictions over access to the European single market and the rhetoric on restricting the employment of foreign workers could lead to staff and further skills shortages.


  • The Vote Leave campaign claimed that a Brexit would free up money for R&I investment. This claim was based on the UK being a “net contributor” to the EU budget as a whole. The size of that net contribution varies, but according to analysis by economist Roger Bootle in his 2014 book “The trouble with Europe” (which, incidentally, contains no analysis of EU research and innovation in its 201 pages), the UK paid a net £9.6bn into the EU in 2012, about 0.6 per cent of nominal GDP.[4]
  • Models of impact to the UK economy on Brexit vary. The Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) calculated the UK could suffer income falls of between 6.3 per cent to 9.5 per cent of GDP under a pessimistic scenario. CEP calculate loses of 2.2 per cent GDP under an “optimistic scenario” (a free trade agreement with the EU). The think tank Open Europe calculate UK GDP could be 2.2 per cent lower in 2030 if Britain leaves the EU and fails to strike a deal with the EU. In a best-case scenario (liberal trade arrangements with EU and globally, with large-scale deregulation at home), Britain could be better off by 1.6% of GDP in 2030.[5]
  • Even the more optimistic assessments of the UK’s economic performance following a Brexit (such as the “best case” +1.6 per cent GDP increase by 2030 by Open Europe) all analyses model an immediate loss in GDP for the transition years following a Brexit. The size of that loss is substantially larger than the current net contribution of the UK to the EU budget.


Possible Brexit scenarios re science research: the Swiss example


  • Switzerland is not a member of the EU but since 1992 has obtained full access to Framework Programmes, as part of agreements that also guarantee free movement of persons, contributing to the FP budget alongside other EU members.


  • In 2014, a popular vote to limit mass migration in Switzerland was passed by a margin of 50.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent


  • Switzerland was suspended from access to Horizon 2020.


  • The Swiss government was forced to replicate at national level a temporary programme to replace immediate access to the ERC programme and subsequently negotiated limited access to H2020, with much reduced access to programmes, exclusion from the new SME Instrument and loss of ability to coordinate collaborative research within H2020. This is reliant on continued freedom of movement.


  • Switzerland also funds Swiss participants in EU collaborative programmes directly at national level, requiring parallel domestic administration and an agreement to accept all funding decisions made in Brussels, effectively losing control of its national science budget.


  • The Swiss were also not included on Erasmus+. They chose to ensure continuation of the scheme by paying nationally both for students leaving and for those coming in (i.e. paying double what they would as a member of the international programme).


  • Negotiated access to H2020 will end in 2016, when Switzerland must either ratify the Croatia treaty or lose access to H2020 plus risk its bilateral trade agreements with the EU.



London and Partners


  • London & Partners (L&P) is London’s official promotional company, working on behalf of the capital to boost its economy and strengthen its reputation.[6] London & Partners can help businesses to understand London’s life sciences assets, navigate London’s life sciences networks, and provide introductions to specialist corporate partners. These are their plans:


  • “Build London’s reputation as a centre for life sciences and technology, with the goal of attracting greater investment and jobs over the medium to long term “ – Business Plan 16/17


  • Build London’s reputation as a centre for life sciences and technology, with the goal of attracting greater investment and jobs over the medium to long term


  • In line with corporate strategy, L&P is focussing particularly on building London’s reputation in the areas of tech and life sciences, looking for every opportunity to publicise the developments and achievements made in these areas, such as celebrating the arrival of new foreign companies bolstering the growing clusters of companies here, VC investment into start-ups, new academic advances with the potential to revolutionise fields of medicine and health, or the catalytic impact of tech innovation on a growing range of sectors including financial services, education, advertising and tourism.[7]


  • L&P to work with MedCity, established as an aggregator and ambassador for the life sciences sector across London and the Greater South East. Providing HR, marketing and PR support for MedCity, which in turn supports L&P in providing expert advice for prospective foreign investors in the life sciences sector.[8]


  • L&P will make a particular push to highlight the exciting developments in the areas of genomics and med tech.[9]


  • London’s tech sector is also growing and developing at pace and our role is to celebrate and aggregate this activity to promote the tech sector as a whole as powerfully as possible. We will again collaborate with UBM on London Tech Week which is a very strong platform for the sector, and create a high profile marketing campaign to generate as much buzz and coverage as possible, leading up to and during the week itself. The theme this year is likely to be convergence; celebrating the way that tech is catalysing and enabling innovation across many other sectors.[10]


[1] Ibid.