Roche CEO fears hit to UK drug research from Brexit vote

Roche tablets are seen in this photo illustration shot in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, January 18, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

ZURICH (Reuters) - Britain’s decision to leave the European Union threatens to undermine its position as a center for drug research and UK patients could fall behind others in Europe in getting access to new drugs, Roche’s chief executive said.

Currently, new drugs are approved by the European Medicines Agency, but in future Britain may have to set up its own drug approval system and the country could move to the back of the queue for new medicines, industry executives say.

“If certain cutting edge innovative medicines do not become part of the standard of care in the UK, this hampers research and development,” Roche CEO Severin Schwan said on Thursday, after reporting first-half results.

Britain has a strong reputation for medical research but it is already a difficult market for launching expensive new drugs, such as the modern cancer treatments produced by Roche.

Schwan warned that if up-to-date therapies were not generally available in the UK then it would not be possible to conduct clinical trials in the country, since researchers needed to compare test drugs to the best existing standard of care.

Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Adrian Croft