The United Kingdom and Sweden have signed a co-operation agreement in life sciences, which aims to strengthen academic research and commercial co-operation as the United Kingdom seeks to deepen scientific ties with other nations after Brexit.
The Memorandum of Understanding, which was signed in London on Friday in the presence of Sweden’s King and Queen, is the first bilateral science agreement that the UK has reached with an EU member state since Brexit.
The agreement provides a framework for linking the two countries’ bioscientific strategies in a wide range of areas, from early diagnostics and genomics to pharmaceutical manufacturing.
“We are absolutely committed to international cooperation,” said George Freeman, the British Minister for Science. “We may have left European Monetary and Political Union, but we want to deepen our scientific ties all the more.
“This agreement is part of our strengthening of bilateral scientific relations – with Israel, Switzerland and now Sweden – after Brexit. Japan and South Korea will be next,” Freeman added.
King Carl XVI Gustaf told the Financial Times that after Brexit, Britain faces a future of “endless bilateral agreements that will make life difficult – but we need each other in science”.
He added: “Our agreement ties together the really strong link that already exists between researchers in the UK and Sweden, which we need to carry out R & D for society’s future.”
Although the Brexit exit agreement of December 2020 provided for the United Kingdom to join the EU’s € 96 billion Horizon Europe research program, Brussels has consistently refused to allow it to take up associate membership due to a long-running dispute with the UK government over trade after Brexit in Northern Ireland.
The UK is formulating a “Plan B” for international scientific cooperation in case its attempts to join Horizon Europe fail.
The scientific collaboration between Sweden and the United Kingdom is already close, rooted in pharmaceuticals by AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company created by the 1999 merger of British Zeneca with Swedish Astra.
On Thursday, the royal couple toured the company’s new research center in Cambridge. The United Kingdom comes second after the United States in jointly written research articles for Swedish researchers.
– We are interested in having a very good relationship with the UK when it comes to research, says Anna Ekström, Sweden’s Minister of Education and Research. “But of course things were easier before Brexit.”
The agreement memorandum does not immediately launch any new British-Swedish research programs, but states a mechanism for doing so in the future. Antimicrobial resistance – finding new antibiotics to treat superbugs and fight over-the-counter prescriptions of existing drugs – is a priority.
Sir Paul Nurse, Executive Director of the Francis Crick Institute, the leading British biomedical research laboratory, welcomed the agreement: “In these times when science is in significant difficulty as a result of Brexit, we must encourage every link we can make with continental Europe.”