As first revealed by Juliette White, vice-president of global external manufacturing at AstraZeneca (AZ), on BBC’s Newsnight programme and confirmed by a spokesperson for AZ, this step had been taken as part of a series of planning stages that had been instigated by the Brexit referendum. Prior to ensuring a larger stockpile of medicines, for instance, AZ had ensured that it has the capabilities to carry out duplicate batch testing in the EU.
A ‘no-deal’ Brexit could leave manufacturers in the UK needing their products to be validated both by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and again in the EU to ensure that goods could be traded across the border.
This could lead to significant delays in exporting treatments from the UK and also receiving products from the EU.
According to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, “every month, 37 million packs of medicine arrive in the UK from the EU, with 45 million moving the other way.”
EMA concerns over underprepared industry
The spokesperson for AZ confirmed that the company had set aside £40m ($52m) to prepare for each potential contingency of the Brexit referendum decision and to manage the on-going costs of these preparations.
However, not all companies with part or all of their manufacturing network in the UK can afford to invest such sums to prepare for the fallout from Brexit.
This is reflected in a European Medicines Agency (EMA) survey, which revealed that nearly half of companies had not completed the required preparation.
This means that the EMA has also had to identify the companies that are particularly at risk and to identify where product shortages may occur. It noted that for all of the products with a manufacturing or regulatory link to the UK, there were serious concerns regarding 16% of these products.
Uncertainty regarding Brexit did not stop UK-based pharma giant, GSK, from committing to further investment into its UK manufacturing network of £275m ($358m) in 2016.