Emma Walmsley says a close relationship with the EU after leaving is vital for the future of the UK’s pharma industry

The boss of Britain’s biggest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, has urged the government to sign a two-year transition deal by April to ensure the industry can cope with the impact of Brexit.

Emma Walmsley, GSK’s chief executive, said the tight deadline was key to giving businesses the clarity needed to invest. “The most important thing is that we get a transition period of at least two years, starting from March 2019, but … secured by April 2018, and we need to make sure that the negotiations that are ongoing are very clearly focused on patient safety and the continued supply of medicines to patients.”

She said there was clearly “a lot of work to do still” at the political level and in the working groups that GSK is involved in.

Walmsley stressed the need for mutual recognition agreements between the UK and the EU to avoid duplication of processes and called for “the fullest possible cooperation” with the European Medicines Agency.

The EMA, which has been based in London for two decades and approves medicines across the EU, is to relocate to Amsterdam. Scientists have warned that once Britain leaves the EU, it could take months longer for new drugs to become available in the UK if pharma companies have to re-register them for the British market. Drugmakers want to remain as close to the European regulatory system as possible.

Walmsley also called for zero tariffs, if possible, on healthcare goods with minimal customs procedures to avoid long waiting times at the border; an immigration system that helps the country attract highly skilled scientists; and continued collaboration in research and development between the UK and the EU.

She said the government recognised the importance of life sciences to Britain. “I am hopeful that the government and the working groups can be pragmatic about the way forward, because we do think it is very necessary, so we can all deliver on what really matters, which is getting the right medicines to the patients.”

Her comments came as she unveiled the first set of full-year results since taking the helm at GSK last spring. The group made revenues of £30.2bn last year, up 3% at constant exchange rates. Adjusted earnings per share, its preferred measure, rose 4% to 111.8p, while pretax profits jumped 58% to £3.5bn.

The company said it was “increasingly confident” in its ability to drive growth over the next few years, despite the threat of competition from generic drugs to its bestselling asthma inhaler Advair. The shares rose 3.4% to £12.85. A year ago they were changing hands at £16.40.

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