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With Britain’s potential succession from the EU looming, scientific leaders in Europe are voicing their concerns that losing the UK would be a blow to clinical research.
First it was President Obama who intervened last week in the keenly contested UK debate by supporting continued membership of the European Union (EU). Now a group of senior European oncologists have expressed their strong opposition to the Brexit (British Exit) campaign, in advance of the referendum on June 23. “We must continue to influence and share European policy in important domains such as clinical trials, data sharing, and clinical best practice, and deliver the highest quality cancer research that underpins improved cancer care for our patients. It is for these reasons that we oppose the UK leaving the EU,” noted four leading cancer researchers and oncologists in the May edition of Lancet Oncology. This comes as no great surprise, but what’s less expected is the group’s open criticism of the EU clinical trials directive. They spell out examples of “the EU’s negative impact on cancer research, such as the European Clinical Trials Directive which led to increased bureaucracy and costs for running clinical trials.” Also, they refer to important concerns over the EU Data Protection Regulation. Remaining in the EU is vital to maintaining the UK’s global strength in cancer research and care, write the authors, who include the Director of the Francis Crick Institute, London, and President of the Association of Cancer Physicians and the European Cancer Concord as well as the Chair of the European Cancer Organization Patient Advisory Committee. “We believe that a continued strong collaboration and shared work and funding in cancer research with EU partners, together with sharing best practice in cancer care, is vital to maintain the UK’s role in cancer research and improve UK cancer services. This alliance will be most effectively delivered by remaining in the EU and robustly supporting research and patient-focused legislation,” they state. The U.K. contributes substantially to EU cancer research funding, strengthening the research area as a whole, and benefits through research grants and by being involved in important multinational collaborations. U.K. science also benefits from the free movement of people, with 15% of academic staff at U.K. institutions being non-U.K. EU nationals, add the authors. If the U.K. were to leave, research partnerships spurred through EU investments could weaken or even disappear, and post-exit uncertainty would affect European oncology research and care and would necessitate a lengthy period of adaptation. Isolation and formal establishment of national borders does not make for good science, treatment, or care, they believe. Such arguments are compelling, but their comments about the EU directive in particular are worth a close look and must not be ignored. Clearly the extra red tape and expenses are causing considerable ill feeling and resentment, even among supporters of EU collaboration and harmonization.