The UK’s unexpected referendum vote to leave the EU last week likely won’t take effect for another two years at least, but the potential consequences of the decision are already generating discussions in every industry, and digital health is no exception.
Today the European Connected Health Alliance (ECHAlliance), a Belfast, Northern Ireland-based nonprofit collaborative with a mission to “develop innovative solutions around mobile health, chronic diseases, active and healthy aging, Internet of Things, wearables, personalized medicine, genomics, and big data” issued a statement about its future in light of the Brexit.
“ECHAlliance, is a truly strong European organization with members from almost every EU Member State, ecosystems in many European Countries, with many more planned to launch this year,” Chair Brian O’Connor wrote. “Our European mentality is reflected as well in our operations with our multi-national team, based in UK, Spain and Germany.”
On one level, ECHAlliance already has non-EU members, so it won’t be a problem for UK-based members to continue to be part of ECHAlliance projects and ecosystems. But the situation is complicated by the fact that the Alliance is based and incorporated in the UK. One area of concern is that a lot of the work ECHAlliance does is funded by EU grants — which it might not be eligible for following the Brexit.
“A practical question to which there appears to be no clear answer just yet is, what will the UK do to replace the EU funding it receives in our sectors,” O’Connor wrote. “Will the EU continue to allow UK entities to participate in EU Calls after the UK leaves? We know many of our UK members participate in Horizon 2020 and other Calls collaborating with many other EU organizations and no doubt you are anxious to find answers as well. When clarity is available we will stand ready to collaborate with you in whatever new arrangements are announced.”
He said the ECHAlliance has a contingency plan to move from Northern Ireland to another EU jurisdiction if necessary.
Just what effect Brexit will have on the health tech startup world in general remains to be seen. The lack of certainty about the UK’s economy is likely to shake investor confidence, at least in the short term, the Wall Street Journal reported. CB Insights, meanwhile, notes that if it is no longer as easy for top tech talent to move freely between the UK and other EU countries, that could lead to a “brain drain” that would be even more harmful to the UK’s tech scene than the loss of investment dollars.
An additional concern is about standards and regulations. But, while Brexit could affect how the UK regulates drugs, it seems less likely to affect the regulation of medical devices, which in Europe is handled through the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), the entity behind the CE Mark. The UK’s association with CEN predates its EU membership and likely won’t be affected by Brexit.