Brexit of brains
Research brain drain dominates post-Brexit fears in U.K.
Few in the British life sciences sector voiced support for an exit from the EU before last month's referendum, but academics, industry leaders and investors are now weighing up the actual damage as they face the reality of the new norm. The biggest concern is that the potential loss of research funding and restrictions on movement could lead to another brain drain for the country.
For those invested in building a biotech sector on the back of the U.K.'s academic science, the timing could hardly have been worse.
After decades in the doldrums, the bioscience ecosystem started to show renewed vigor in the last two years with increased investment of public and private money, the creation of the translationally oriented Francis Crick Institute and the establishment of MedCity Ltd. - London's hub for promoting life sciences investment, entrepreneurship and industry, backed by the Mayor's office and several leading local academic health centers.
While those initiatives are concentrated in the capital, which voted about 60-40% to remain in the EU, British science has been on an upswing throughout the country. In BioCentury Innovations' Distillery, which tracks research with commercial potential, institutions outside London contributed 69% of the items selected from the U.K. from 2014 to 2015.
The vote was a blow to the academic community, which is now faced with maintaining relations built through the easy collaborations enabled by EU membership.
"This is a poor outcome for British science and so is bad for Britain," said Paul Nurse, chief executive of The Crick and former president of the Royal Society, in a statement. "British scientists will have to work hard in the future to counter the isolationism of Brexit if our science is to continue to thrive."
In fact, views differ on how Brexit will play out. But while stakeholders who spoke with BioCentury saw differences in the likely impact on public