Wellcome Trust joins warning for no-deal Brexit, calls on Boris Johnson to cast R&D vision
Boris Johnson may have pledged to continue building on Britain’s “enormous strengths” in life science as he blazes a path toward Brexit, but one of the country’s top funders of biomedical research is demanding more.
In a letter to the UK’s new Prime Minister, Wellcome Trust warned that “the final months of 2019 could be a tipping point for UK science” and leaving the EU without a deal is a threat to the thriving sector. Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller, who chairs the charity, urged Johnson to make a significant statement on science to lay out his vision in the face of global health emergencies and the looming loss of access to collaboration with European peers.
But David Grainger of Medicxi, a London-based VC firm known for its asset-centric plays around Europe, dismissed Wellcome Trust’s letter as “more scaremongering” and asserted “UK as a place to do science will be unaffected” by Brexit.
I am responsible for more than 20 UK biotech companies and we envisage no impact in our businesses from a #NoDeal #brexit – so I have skin in making such statement (arguably more than @wellcometrust does)
— David Grainger (@sciencescanner) July 28, 2019
One of Johnson’s key promises to the party members who elected him was that he will execute the UK’s departure from the EU by October 31, come what may.
The concerns are hardly new. While Johnson was still vying for the leadership role against fellow Conservative Party MP Jeremy Hunt, researcher organizations including Cancer Research UK have sounded similar alarms. The uncertainty around the future relationship between the UK and other countries in Europe has already jeopardized researchers’ participation in continental research pacts, they said.
Manningham-Buller echoes that “some damage has already been done, with loss of researchers, and influence.” And like Pamela Kearns of CRUK, she raised concerns about securing membership in Horizon Europe, a €100 billion (£89.9 billion) funding program that features cancer as one of its key missions.
“While science promotes global collaboration, the barriers to success need to be minimized, including with Europe where our closest and most extensive science relationships are,” the letter read. “That means negotiating associated country status in the EU’s ‘Horizon Europe’ research programme, even if we intend to create our own systems in the years ahead.”
It is up to Johnson’s government to seize the opportunity and “spend the sort of money our competitors are doing” — such as Germany — Manningham-Buller told the BBC.
“The key to this will be to ensure that increased public investment leads to an even greater private sector contribution towards the development and use of new technologies, including through patient capital,” she wrote in her letter.