Life Sciences Regulatory Framework Becomes Law Post-Brexit

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Nearly one year after its introduction to the House of Commons, the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill 2019‑2021 (the Bill) was granted Royal Assent on 11 February 2021, becoming law as the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021 (the Act). 

The purpose of the Act is to create a structure for the UK Government to legislate for updates or amendments to our existing laws on human and veterinary medicine, clinical trials, and medical devices. Now that the Brexit transition period has come to an end, the Government views the Act as essential in ensuring that the UK retains its position as a world leader in the life sciences industry and is able to take advantage of innovative medicines and technologies more quickly.

During its passage through Parliament, the Act was subject to a number of amendments, including the introduction of: (i) an independent Commissioner for Public Safety, and an overarching objective focused on safeguarding public health; and (ii) public consultations in relation to proposed regulations, and requirements for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (the MHRA) to lay periodic reports before Parliament. These amendments were made to address concerns in the House of Lords surrounding the wide-reaching powers delegated to the MHRA under the Act.

One aspect of the Act that remains largely unchanged, however, is the introduction of new enforcement powers for the MHRA. With these new powers, the MHRA can impose either civil or criminal sanctions for breaches of the Act or any secondary legislation made pursuant to it. These offences can be committed by corporates as well as individuals, including company directors. For more information on the offences themselves and the ways in which the resulting penalties can be defended or avoided, see our previous alert.

Now that the Act has become law, the MHRA must prepare and publish guidance as to the civil sanctions that can be imposed. In particular, the guidance should provide further information regarding monetary penalties and the MHRA’s power to accept enforcement undertakings in place of criminal conviction or the imposition of a fine.  With the objective of the Act being the safeguard of public health and safety it is, however, likely that financial sanctions will be onerous and tolerance for corporates without robust procedures in place will be low.

Although the Act now allows the UK the flexibility to respond quickly to medical advances and developments in medical technology, we note that the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement does not provide for the mutual recognition of regulatory regimes. It will, therefore, be interesting to see how the UK Government and the MHRA seek to balance a new, robust and evolving regulatory regime with the need to remain commercially viable for multinational pharmaceutical companies, medical devices manufacturers and other affected parties that currently operate in both markets.

Stephanie Pong, London Trainee Solicitor, contributed to the drafting of this alert.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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