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Brexit and MedTech, Part 1: Research and Development

This is the first in our series of articles in which we will look at how Brexit and the EU-UK trade deal impacts research and development.

In July 2020, the Government published its Research and Development Roadmap, which sets out the UK’s ambitious long-term objectives for investment in science and research to deliver economic growth and societal benefits across the UK.

The Roadmap sought to address, amongst other things, the many concerns raised by the research community about Brexit, in particular access to funding and the attraction and retention of talent from the EU and other overseas jurisdictions.

Continued access to overseas money and talent are critical to the UK remaining at the forefront of global innovation.

Funding for research and development

UK universities and businesses involved in R&D have traditionally relied on a combination of UK and EU funding, particularly for large collaborative projects.

Post Brexit, UK funding opportunities from home sources such as Innovate UK and other focussed research councils are expected to rise following a Government promise of increased investment - the UK government has committed to increase its investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and to increase public spending on R&D projects to £22 billion by 2024/25, to be applied to both UK and international research.

And while the picture in relation to EU funding access is not quite as rosy, it doesn’t appear as bad as some commentators feared.

Since 2014, UK researchers have been able to access funding under the EU Horizon 2020 programme. Although this programme has now come to an end, the Government has already confirmed that it will underwrite funding for any projects which were successful under Horizon 2020, including those which finish after the UK has left the EU. UK participants in individual Horizon 2020 projects will therefore continue to receive funding for the lifetime of their projects.

From January 2021, Horizon 2020 will be replaced by the next EU research and innovation programme - Horizon Europe, which will run for 7 years until the end of 2027. The EU-UK trade agreement explicitly gives the UK the right to participate in the programme, meaning that UK universities, research organisations and R&D teams will be able to apply to calls for EU grant funding.

However, the UK will no longer have any influence in the operation of the Horizon Europe programme, and negotiations over the level of financial contribution expected from the UK for associate membership are still ongoing. Furthermore, UK-based companies will not be allowed to compete for financing in the European Innovation Council’s accelerator fund which falls outside Horizon Europe, and offers EU companies grant funding of up to €2.5 million together with the ability to apply for equity investments of up to €15 million backed by European Investment Bank money.

The net impact of the EU-UK deal therefore leaves UK researchers with reduced access to EU money than before and less access than countries such as Israel or Norway. But, in our view, the R&D Roadmap and the Government’s ambitious promises, go a long way - at least in theory - to cushioning the impact of Brexit on R&D funding.

Attracting talent

Effective research and development in MedTech depends heavily on the availability of a wide pool of talent from both UK and international research institutions and commercial organisations. Now that the UK has left the EU, UK organisations involved in research and development are concerned about access to talented researchers, particularly if immigration requirements are prohibitive.

In its R&D Roadmap, the UK government committed to attracting global talent, and cutting unnecessary red tape to ensure the UK is the best place in the world for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to live, work and innovate. As part of this, it committed to make available £300 million to upgrade scientific infrastructure across the UK, which will enable research institutes and universities to make sure UK researchers have access to better lab equipment, digital resources, and up to date research facilities.

The Government has also set up a new department “Office for Talent” which is intended to smooth the immigration path for talented overseas researchers to work and study in the UK. The department is still very new, having been operational only since 1st January 2021, so the exact workings of the department and whether it is successful are still to be seen. However, it is intended that the Office for Talent will implement a more customer-friendly visa application service to smooth the immigration path for those wishing to work in research and development roles.

Academics and researchers from overseas, or individuals that are experts in digital technologies, who can show that they are a leader or potential leader in their field, will be able to apply for a Global Talent visa which will allow them to work in the UK for 5 years, renewable each 5 years thereafter.

Further, international students who complete a PhD from Summer 2021 will be able to stay in the UK for another three years to live and work. Students who have successfully completed undergraduate and master’s degrees will be able to stay two years following the end of their studies.

In the immediate aftermath of Brexit, researchers might face some initial challenges in terms of the practical aspects of funding applications or navigating the visa process. However, we anticipate that researchers will be able to continue with their R&D programmes and take advantage of international opportunities to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of global innovation.

In the next in our series of articles, we will consider the impact of Brexit on the protection of IP rights.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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