One of the first realizations following the Brexit vote in the UK last year was that the European Medicines Agency, which recently had centralized its operations in London, would need to leave—and leave quickly. Since then the agency has readied a relocation plan, and on August 1 announced that 19 cities within the EU had submitted bids to be the new home. (The list of cities is literally A to Z: Amsterdam to Zagreb.) The bids are to be evaluated by a working group of the European Commission, with recommendations forwarded to the European Council (made up the heads of state of the EU) for a final decision in November. The intent is to have EMA settled in place by March 2019, which is the official deadline for the UK’s exit.
In terms of physical movement, EMA is a relatively small agency, with a staff of around 900 (FDA, by comparison, is 15,000—not all of whom are at the White Oak, MD, headquarters.) EMA is set up to coordinate activities of the health agencies of its member states; there are some 4,500 experts on call, for example, to assist in drug evaluations. To ensure business continuity, EMA has published a three-level priority plan, with drug reviews and patient safety issues as the top priority, for which operations will be “business as usual” during the transition; likewise for second-tier priorities such as publications. A third level, including a variety of IT and data standardization efforts, is temporarily on hold.
The siting of EMA is an economic plum regardless of its staff size, notes Rory Mullen, VP for Biopharma and Food at IDA Ireland (the country’s economic development authority). The coordinating nature of its operations means a high number of visits to the headquarters, a boon for travel and lodging. Dublin, Ireland’s bid for the new location, has the advantages of being in a country with a high concentration of biopharma activity today; in addition, he points out, Ireland will be the only English-dominant-speaking nation within the EU after Brexit, which could be a factor for streamlining coordination between EMA and other global agencies including, obviously, FDA.