THE BLOG

Science And Brexit: International Collaboration Is Key

07/09/2017 12:53 BST | Updated 07/09/2017 12:53 BST

Today sees the publication of the Government's position paper on Science and Brexit. This long-awaited paper sets out what the UK would like to see from a new relationship with the EU when it comes to scientific research.

The paper emphasises the importance of continued international collaboration on science and innovation, highlighting evidence from a joint report on collaboration that the BHF and others published earlier in the year. It also sets out the Government's intention to explore future cooperation with several EU programmes and bodies, including EU research funding programmes and the European Medicines Agency.

As the UK's largest independent funder of cardiovascular research, the nature of our future relationship with the international science community is hugely important. Many of our researchers receive funding from the EU and many more collaborate with EU counterparts.

What's more, almost a fifth of BHF research leads are non-UK EU nationals themselves.

The flow of ideas, people and new perspectives between the UK and other EU countries has been central to the successes we've seen in cardiovascular research. We must now work out how we continue to foster this collaborative environment outside the EU.

Addressing uncertainty

Scientists are increasingly looking for answers about what the future of UK science will look like. While the UK does not officially leave the EU until March 2019, researchers are making decisions about where to apply for funding or where to make their next career move right now.

The impact of this inevitable uncertainty is already starting to show. A survey of BHF-funded researchers found that almost half were now more likely to look for career opportunities outside of the UK, citing concerns around access to funding, the rights of EU nationals and the ability to collaborate with international colleagues.

Today's paper is an important first step in addressing some of this uncertainty. We welcome the focus on collaboration -- evidence shows that internationally collaborative research has greater impact than research produced in isolation. EU research funding helps support this by offering a number of grants that specifically promote collaborative working. It is therefore encouraging to see that the Government will explore future UK involvement in these schemes.

We are also pleased to see a commitment to continued cooperation with the European Medicines Agency to ensure that patients in the UK have access to the very best treatments as soon as they are available, and to rare disease research, where patient populations are so small that international collaboration is essential to run clinical trials.

Several unknowns remain

While there are some welcome commitments, several unknowns remain. Our survey highlighted that there are still major concerns around the ability of researchers to attract and retain talent within their research groups.

Seventy per cent of those who had advertised posts in the last year reported a reduction in the number of EU applications they'd received. We recognise that this issue will form part of the wider discussions around the UK's immigration system but it is clear that people need certainty as soon as possible.

Ultimately, this research matters because it's helping to save and improve lives. Over the last fifty years, the outlook for patients living with cardiovascular disease has completely transformed.

Thanks to medical breakthroughs we are seeing seven in ten people surviving a heart attack, better diagnosis of inherited conditions, and more babies born with congenital heart defects living into adulthood. But with 7 million people in the UK living with cardiovascular disease, it's clear our work is not yet done.

Scientific research flourishes in an environment of confidence, stability and collaboration. As EU negotiations progress, we must keep this at the front of our minds.

MORE: