Location, Location, Location: Why the European Medicines Agency Move from London to Amsterdam is Important for Medicine

Big news this week in the pharma world was the decision on where the medicine regulatory body the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will move to, when it decamps from its London base to Amsterdam, due to Brexit.

The EMA is a key body in Europe for the evaluation and approval of new medicines for both human and animal use, and over two decades has built up a team of around 900 experts in Canary Wharf. The Agency must be situated in a country which is a member of the EU, hence the need to move. Throughout Europe there’s been substantial interest in landing the new Agency location, 19 EU countries each put forward a new city in the running: Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Bonn, Bratislava, Brussels, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Helsinki, Lille, Milan, Porto, Sofia, Stockholm, Valletta, Vienna, Warsaw and Zagreb. Amsterdam was one of the favourite choices among agency staff.

That so many countries were interested in being the new home for the EMA points to the value of the location of the Agency in building up a pharmaceutical hot spot. The winning location, Amsterdam, should expect significant pharma investment as companies ensure they have local offices to ensure regular engagement with the Agency.

The actual decision was made by a complex voting procedure, involving several rounds of ballots by Ministers in the remaining 27 EU countries. The final round was between Amsterdam, Milan and Copenhagen.

For the UK it is mostly bad news, as firstly, the Agency has predicted that a lot of its London based staff may be reluctant to move, so there will be job losses (although this may give potential for the UK based pharma companies to hire experienced agency staff), and also a loss of technical competency in the Agency, as replacing them would delay drug approvals and patient safety checks. Secondly, the UK will lose its easy access to the most important regulator for approving new drugs, which may also mean the UK is not chosen as amongst the first European countries for drug launches. This will likely mean UK patients find it increasingly difficult to have access to medicines available across the Channel, as is already the case for many cancer drugs.

For mainland Europe it’s good news, as once the actual move is over, there’s the potential to improve on the London based EMA, in a location that is better suited for everyone who isn’t in London, with likely better access for European patients to the latest in what medicine has to offer.

Annalise Coady
Annalise Coady

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