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Thought Leadership

Pharma Plans for Brexit

By Onyx Health | 21st March 2019

Read Time: 3 minutes


While the threat of a no-deal Brexit grows and tension mounts, the world of UK pharma is continuing to develop their contingency plans.  Due to the uncertainty Brexit poses, many firms have taken to preparing for range of outcomes, which is costing them heavily 

The Government has previously held talks with pharmaceutical companies to discuss risk management in anticipation of a no-deal Brexit. These discussions addressed funding the additional costs associated with stockpiling and transporting vital medicines via air freight.1 However, with the risk that a no-deal Brexit could disrupt medicines supplies to the UK for at least six months, as opposed to the initial estimate of six weeks, companies are feeling the pressure to be prepared.2,3 

Below are some examples of what the big names in pharma have been doing in preparation for a no-deal. 


As one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies (which bases its worldwide research in Cambridge, UK), this pharmaceutical giant is about to face one of their biggest challenges yet.  

AstraZeneca’s Dutch external affairs director, Ad Antonisse, has spoken out about their concern, stating that “EU patients may not have access to vital medicines” following a no deal Brexit. 4While Chairman, Leif Johansson, has said the UK needs to make sure it “does not become an isolated island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean”.5 

The company has already spent £50m on measures including revising transport routes and boosting stockpiles of medicines in the EU and UK, as per request of the UK government.5Although AstraZeneca always have additional finished medicines on standby, these reserves have now increased by 20%6Which means inventories have increased from a three months’ supply to four in Europe, and four and a half months in the UK.5 

However, stockpiling results in finical implications. The uncertainty of Brexit and its outcomes raises the question of whether these drugs will ever be bought. Therefore, there is a cap of stockpiling and a limit to its capabilities. 


The UK’s biggest drug-maker, GSK, have claimed that their Brexit plans are making good progress but admitted, along with many other large firms, that getting ready for the impending March 29th is going to be ‘ambitious’.5 

Employing approximately 15,300 people in UK, the threat of a no-deal Brexit is forcing GSK (along with other pharma companies), to build new laboratories for parallel product testing so that their products can keep licenses and still be sold in the EU.5  

GSK have made their approach to Brexit available to the public on their website. The statement acknowledges that while “uncertainty remains about the future relationship between the UK and the EU” GSK are confident that Brexit will not have a material impact” on their business long-term. 


The American pharmaceuticals group, Pfizer, which currently employs 2,500 people within the UK, plans to move its Havant site to Puurs in Belgium, but says the move is not related to Brexit. It has promised, however, to keep its Sandwich site, which makes medicines for clinical trials worldwide.7 

Pfizer is to spend about $100 million on Brexit-related measures, which is well documented in the headlines. The costs will cover transferring product testing and licences from the UK to other European countries as well as stockpiling.8 


It’s not just pharma giants that are feeling threatened by the forthcoming split. The NHS are also attempting the put contingency plans in place, so no patient is left without access to life-saving drugs or their EU national doctors and nurses.  

Along with necessary stockpiling, every hospital had been asked to “reach out” to the estimated 63,000 EU nationals working there with information about how to apply to stay in the UK.9,10 

Despite the, what seems like a rather imminent split, the UK healthcare industry are realistically and responsibly preparing for all possible outcomes, but it is true to say at this moment in time no-one really knows what the long-term consequences to the NHS and the UK pharmaceutical company will be. 


1. The Guardian Government talks to drug companies about Brexit stockpiling Available online: 2. Pharma Phorum Brexit could disrupt medicine supplies for six months – minister Available online: 3. HSJ NHS told not to stockpile medication ahead of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. Available online: 4. The Warrington Guardian. AstraZeneca prepares for no-deal Brexit to stop EU patients missing out on drugs. Available online: 5. The Guardian. What are Brexit Contingency Plans for the Pharmaceutical industry. Available online: 6. Pharmaceutical Technology. AstraZeneca to stockpile medicines in preparation for no-deal Brexit. Available online: 7. Bloomberg. Pfizer Estimates Brexit Costs at $100 Million as Talks Drag. Available online: 8. The Times. Brexit changes force Pfizer to swallow $100m of extra costs Available online: 9. NHS staff from overseas: statistics – House of Commons Library – 10. BBC. NHS preparing to ‘stockpile’ drugs for no deal Brexit Available online:
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