Brexit ‘doesn’t do us any favours’

A leading cloud-based data analysis platform which serves the healthcare, biomedical research and precision medicine market has raised fears that the Brexit vote could impact the sector.

Chris Roche, CEO of Aridhia, had already warned in advance of the EU referendum that large-scale health research funding programmes “could be cut off at the knees” by a vote to leave.

In the wake of the Brexit vote he said there is now “uncertainty” over massive pan-European research programmes like the €80bn Horizon 2020 fund, which Scotland benefits from.

But in a move to reassure investors he said businesses like his will find a way to “evolve and adapt” over the long-term, but that short-term clarity is now needed.

“All the people who already have their funding, that’s been awarded and it’s going nowhere,” he said. “But as for any new decisions, nobody knows as it’s too early.”

“Because there’s a lot of stuff to play out, that means uncertainty and will that attract people to continue investing here or will they say in the short term, ‘I’d just like to see how this plays out’?”

Roche’s company is currently engaged in a €46m EU-funded project to pool and share data from 36 private and public sector organisations across Europe – to improve understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Its AnalytiXagility data analysis platform is being used to bring together knowledge from academics, pharma and public health professionals involved with the European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia Consortium (EPAD).

“Most European countries are involved in that project,” said Roche. “That’s one of those huge projects and that’s being led by Scotland, which is really good.”

That programme has already been agreed and is not under threat, but Roche highlighted the fact that the best research is being conducted at a multidisciplinary, multinational level, and that cooperation is vital to get access to the size of datasets that allow real progress to be made in the sector.

He said also schemes like EPAD allow big pharma companies and researchers to work ‘pre-competitively’ because of the difficulty of getting a ‘big enough patient cohort’.

“So you’ve got all these different organisations, all these countries putting their data together and working on it together – that’s what our platform is helping them do,” he added.

Asked whether Brexit will make that kind of collaboration more difficult, he said: “Research is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary business – you have to present yourself as collaborative. So I don’t think it does us any favours. Do we look a more collaborative country than we did a couple of weeks ago? A lot of people will make their minds up on that, won’t they. In general, I would very much say that this is unnecessary for us to go down this route. Now we’re going down this route as a business we have to make our plans accordingly around that.”

The EPAD project is creating a virtual Europe-wide register of around 24,000 people who already participate in national and regional research studies, long-term cohorts or clinical registers. Researchers are hoping to identify people most at risk of developing dementia with the long-term goal of earlier treatment.