Published: 28 February 2018

Children could be excluded from lifesaving clinical trials for cancer treatments when the UK leaves the EU, according to the Brexit Health Alliance.

In a briefing paper published today, the alliance of organisations from the NHS, medical research, industry, patients and public health organisations, is calling on both sides in the Brexit negotiations to put patients first.

Titled “The impact of Brexit: Patient access to medical research”, the briefing warns that unless the right deal is reached, the UK may not be able to participate fully in collaborative trials and research activities. 

The paper cites the example from a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities of paediatric cancer specialists who are trialling a chemotherapy treatment for children and young adults with recurring neuroblastoma.

This rare form of cancer affects around 100 children every year in the UK. More than half those with aggressive forms of the disease will see it return.

The small number of patients means that the trial could not have happened in a single European country.

Aisling Burnand, Chief Executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities, said:

By working in partnership, the EU and the UK have together achieved many research breakthroughs that have saved and improved countless lives. Only by multi-national collaboration, can we involve sufficient numbers of children and adults with rare and less common diseases in clinical trials.
As the second phase of Brexit negotiations rapidly approaches, an environment for medical research that builds on this strong foundation and supports further innovative research for maximum patient benefit should be a key objective. It is vital that the concerns of patients are addressed with urgency.

Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, said:

We need to make sure UK and EU patients do not lose out as the UK leaves the EU.
“If patients are to continue to benefit from early access to new and better treatments, health technologies and cutting-edge medicines, we have to be able to take part in multinational research programmes and clinical trials. We have achieved so much through co-operation with European partners and this must continue.
“This can be done if the will is there – what patients need is an agreement which enables maximum co-operation in research and innovation between the EU and the UK, and maximum alignment with the rules regulating medicines and medical devices across Europe.
“But time is running out and with little more than 12 months before Britain leaves the EU, we need to settle this uncertainty as soon as possible.
“Let’s put patients first - both the UK Government and European Commission must make reaching an agreement on future research cooperation a priority.