The debate over the stockpiling of medicines – in case of disruption upon the UK exiting the EU – has intensified, as the possibility of a no-deal scenario has begun to look more likely. Industry has been pushing for a “mutual recognition” deal that would smooth the movement of drugs during the UK’s exit from the EU, but this idea has already been rejected by both the UK and EU governments.
Sanofi and Novartis have recently been vocal about their ongoing plans to expand UK stockpiles of their medicines in order to prevent supplies running short in case it becomes difficult to resupply from EU production sites. Numerous other drugmakers including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Roche have also been quietly building up their stocks.
It is reported that the Department of Health and Social Care is poised to formally ask next week for the industry to begin stockpiling, and will offer funding to cover the costs of warehousing. The Department is also expected to instruct the NHS not to invest its own resources, on the grounds it believes warehousing by manufacturers should be adequate. The NHS is understood to have recently been undertaking contingency planning to increase stocks of medicines, blood, and insulin.
In addition to stockpiling, some companies (such as Sanofi) have made the decision to relocate operations out the UK. These moves come as drugmakers increasingly believe that even if a favourable agreement is struck, it will come too late for them to make appropriate changes in their logistics chains.
Concerns over the likelihood of a UK exit without an agreement have been increasing as even leading figures in the Leave campaign begin to sound pessimistic about the possibility of a deal. Dr Liam Fox MP, who a year ago characterised a deal with the EU as the “easiest in human history” has now stated in an interview that he thinks a no-deal exit is now more likely than not.
Beyond the immediate impact of disruption, a longer-term concern for the UK may be the effects that a lack of a harmonised system. A smaller UK market is likely to be less of a priority for drugmakers, which may mean that the UK loses priority in product launch sequence, which risks delaying innovative new medicines entering the UK market. More information on product launch sequences is available on MAP Online, along with the latest information on Brexit.