Drug Development

No minister: UK biotech community loses its dedicated government minister

George Freeman delighted in telling people he was the world’s “first and only” minister for the life sciences. The question now is whether he will also be the last.

George Freeman

George Freeman

In the big government reshuffle following David Cameron’s departure in the wake of the stunning vote in favor of leaving the EU, Freeman now has a new task as chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board.

Freeman was a biotech entrepreneur himself in the day, once running a company called Amedis and backing biotechs as the director of early-stage ventures at Merlin. That background provided an enthusiastic welcome from the country’s biotech community, which enjoyed the attention the minister brought to the field. And his new post has triggered more than a few laments on Twitter.

Freeman’s main task was pointing the country’s growing biotech community to a leading role on the world stage, encouraging new projects to accelerate access to experimental therapies and backing an ambitious genomics project that helped highlight the UK’s pharma R&D industry.

Freeman’s exit from his high profile life sciences post comes as the UK tries to figure out just how damaging Brexit is to its biotech industry. The EU brought considerable research funding to the country’s scientists. And setting up a separate regulatory structure for the country – if it comes down to that – would also relegate the country to an also-ran position of importance for biopharma, behind the U.S. and then Europe.

You could feel the shivers running up and down the industry’s spine reading Kristen Hallam’s piece in Bloomberg on Brexit’s impact on biotech today. The decision to step out of the EU will not only shrink the amount of money available for research, it is already causing talented individuals on the continent to steer clear of the UK. As the country never had a chance to fully develop its biotech industry, a shortage of talent was already an issue for some VCs who were reluctant to invest in UK biotech companies. Brexit can only make matters worse.

Now, facing a chilly future, the sector doesn’t even have its own minister/advocate to warm things up at No. 10 Downing Street.

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