Brexit and the treatment of children with cancer | Letters

Letters
Once outside the EU, it will be harder for UK patients to participate in clinical trials, says Dame Glenis Willmott, Labour’s European parliament spokesperson on health. Photograph: Lynne Cameron/PA

The warning that children with cancer risk missing out on drug trials (Report, 9 March) highlights an issue that has been largely overlooked in the Brexit debate. I led work on the EU clinical trials regulation, which will come into force in 2018. By harmonising EU law and creating a single application portal, this will make it easier to carry out clinical trials in more than one country. Cross-border trials are particularly important for paediatric cancers because there are usually not enough cases in one country to make a trial viable. Once outside the EU, it will be harder for UK patients to participate in these trials.

Although cancer in children is relatively rare, more than 1,700 children are diagnosed and 257 die from cancer every year in the UK. Due to the lack of treatments available, a clinical trial may represent the only chance of survival for a child with cancer. Children are already missing out on access to innovative treatments because drug companies are reluctant to carry out paediatric testing due to the small anticipated profit margins; if children in the UK no longer have access to EU trials, this situation could become much worse. Withdrawing from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) could further impact the time it takes for new medicines to be available to patients in the UK.

Theresa May seems determined to cut all ties with the EU, even where there are obvious advantages from continued cooperation. It would certainly benefit patients in the UK, and children with cancer in particular, if we seek to remain part of the EMA and the EU clinical trials framework.
Dame Glenis Willmott MEP
Labour’s European parliament spokesperson on health

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