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What does Rishi Sunak's Northern Ireland deal mean for life sciences in the UK?

The political news this week in the UK is full of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s deal with the EU. The so-called 'Windsor Framework' sets out the terms on which goods can move freely between mainland UK and Northern Ireland, while ensuring continuity on the island of Ireland.

Although not the primary focus of the talks, an additional benefit may be that it reverses some of the damage that many in the scientific community feel was done to the sector by Brexit. As part of the UK’s separation from the EU, UK researchers lost access to ‘Horizon Europe’, a pot of funding and the ability to collaborate across Europe. These collaborations are likely to be particularly important in 2023, as biotechs try to navigate downward pressure on fundraising rounds.

In her remarks on the deal, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen indicated that UK scientists would regain access to the programme. Any readmission to Horizon Europe will likely be seen as a boost for the Government, at a time in which it is seeking to realign Whitehall to focus more on science and innovation in a bid to become a ‘science superpower’. The Government has tried to have this resolved prior to the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, overseen by Tony Blair who has also recently sought to focus debate on the life sciences sector.

However, readmission is unlikely to be an overnight process. Much of the UK’s success in the area of research and development has been due to its cluster of universities (particularly in the Golden Triangle). While they wait for re-entry to Horizon and its benefits to be felt, many in the life sciences sector are still calling for more Government support, including through R&D tax credits.

Last year, the UK had also tried to bridge some of this gap through a new co-operation agreement with Switzerland. The UK Government will now need to ensure that both sets of commitments continue to receive the appropriate funding.

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, described the accord as “good news for scientists and researchers in the EU and in the UK”. “The moment it’s implemented, I’m happy to start immediately — right now — work on an association agreement, which is the precondition to join Horizon Europe,” she said.


life sciences, investments, venture, tax