(Reuters) - Drugmakers warned on Friday that if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal next month Britons could miss out on an EU-wide system to fight counterfeit drugs that will go live on Saturday after years of British involvement in building it.
Drugmakers, wholesalers and pharmacies across Europe have worked for more than four years on a system based on a shared database and tamper-proof packages with barcodes that will go live on Saturday, to fulfil the European Union's Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD).
"It would be an absolute travesty if NHS patients aren't part of a system specifically designed to protect them. But that's exactly what could happen in a 'no deal' Brexit," Rick Greville, Director of Supply Chain at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said in a statement by the lobby group.
"It is just another reason why we urgently need a Brexit deal," he added.
The British government, which says that about three-quarters of medicines used by the state-run National Health Service (NHS) come via the EU, has outlined plans to ensure Britain has an extra six weeks of drug supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The global counterfeit drug market is worth around $200 billion (£154 billion) annually, the World Health Organisation says, with often devastating consequences for unsuspecting patients, many of whom live in the developing world.
The problem was highlighted in October by coordinated police raids in 116 countries that netted 500 tonnes of illicit pharmaceuticals available online, including fake cancer medications and pain pills.
The European Medicines Verification System (EMVS) will allow dispensing pharmacists to scan drug packages and link up to a database to give patients assurance on the product's authenticity.
The European Union said on Thursday it would work with Theresa May on whether a way could be found to avoid the disruption of a no-deal Brexit on March 29, after the British prime minister demanded changes to the divorce deal to get it through parliament.
The highly regulated drugs sector is seen as one of the most vulnerable to a no-deal outcome due to its pan-European supply chains and need for regulatory oversight.
(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Frances Kerry)