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On the blog today, Michael Connellan, Acting Head of Media and Public Affairs at BIA Charity of the Year JDRF, describes his experience at this year’s annual Parliament Day.

Never has a trip to the Houses of Parliament felt so vital to us at JDRF as the BioIndustry Association’s Parliament Day on 7 July.

It took place two short weeks after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The biotech and life sciences sector – which includes JDRF as the world’s leading type 1 diabetes research charity – was working hard to absorb what Brexit might mean for it and how it could best respond.

In the run up to the referendum many in the scientific community had voiced serious concerns about the potential negative impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. We at JDRF knew that following the decision to leave, everyone needed to pull together to protect the UK’s vibrant, productive and influential life sciences sector.

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Thankfully, the BIA’s superb Parliament Day gave us the opportunity to do just that. How could we keep attracting the best scientific minds to work to treat, prevent and cure health conditions right here in the UK? How could we keep ensuring the flow of funding as well as scientists?

As well as collaborating within the sector, Parliament Day also gave JDRF the opportunity to bring the sector’s messages to individual parliamentarians.

Meeting the likes of Liz McInnes MP, who is a former NHS scientist, did provide a degree of reassurance that there are people in Westminster who truly understand the necessity of protecting and boosting UK science at this time. Andrew Slaughter MP also needed no persuading. As MP for Hammersmith, he is familiar with Imperial College, where JDRF is funding a number of projects in laboratories and clinics to find new ways to cure, treat and prevent type 1 diabetes. We also met former Life Sciences Minister George Freeman.

The day helped to reassure us at JDRF that that there will be no immediate changes in the sector.  EU research grants to UK-based researchers will continue; researchers are able to apply for EU research grants while we remain EU members, although how this works practically remains to be seen; and there will be no short term changes to regulations for EU workers in UK laboratories and clinics.

May CabinetBut there have of course been plenty of immediate changes in Government. Two weeks after Parliament Day, Theresa May was confirmed as the nation’s new leader. Within another few days, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills was disbanded. George Freeman – who was a rather popular Minister with many in the life sciences sector – has a different role.

There are 400,000 people in the UK living with type 1 diabetes. They must inject insulin every day just to stay alive. It’s on the increase, especially in small children.

The true impact that ‘Brexit’ will have on the UK’s ability to tackle conditions like type 1 diabetes will be unclear until the detailed negotiations progress further. But we’ll be working with our friends in the BIA to reduce any negative consequences. JDRF will battle to maintain momentum towards the type 1 diabetes cure.

JDRF is the BioIndustry Association’s Charity of the Year for 2016 – www.jdrf.org.uk

Interested in becoming our Charity of the Year for 2017? Email us for more details – applications must be received by 12 August.