EMA relocation update: a 5 horse race after drop-outs, UK could plug the gap

Updates on the voting in Brussels on the future home of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

19:00 CET: Read the first reaction to the decision here. More tomorrow from the EMA press conference on how it will make the transition across the North Sea, with the aim of minimising disruption for medicines regulation in Europe – no small order.

18:16 CET: Amsterdam wins!  The Netherlands capital has won it via a coin toss after a tie in the votes between it and Milan.

Latest 17:42 CET:  Voting down to the last two candidates after two rounds:  Milan – 12 votes and Amsterdam – 9 votes.  Copenhagen eliminated after attracting 5 votes.  This means there was one abstention.

Final result expected at around 19.30 European time.

Some bitter disappointment emerging from Barcelona after it was eliminated:

15:00 CET: The double-header vote on the EMA and the European Banking Authority (EBA) has complicated tactics from the bidding countries across the remaining EU27 nations.

Dublin, Zagreb and Valletta were among the cities which submitted bids to re-home the EMA, but have all dropped out. In the case of Dublin this is because no city can win both the EMA and EBA; Dublin has clearly calculated that it wants the banking regulator more than the medicines authority, or that it stands a better chance in this run-off.

It is competing with Brussels, Frankfurt, Paris, Prague, Luxembourg City, Vienna and Warsaw. Note also that Vienna is still bidding for both agencies, but is only thought to be a front runner for the EMA.

Here is some insight from an expert close to the action, Ireland-based Brian Cleary, chief marketing officer at Acorn Regulatory.

“Having spoken to sources within a number of bid teams this morning, I believe that the race is really between 5 cities. They are Amsterdam, Bratislava, Copenhagen, Milan and Vienna. Naturally, as with any competition where the criteria are often sublimated in favour of political trading, there is a chance that an outside contender will win this.”

Commenting on the latest odds, which show Bratislava having taken a surprise lead over Milan, Cleary said the Slovakian government had submitted a “very good and comprehensive document”.

He added: “Irrespective of the result, the regulatory community needs to be assured that the transition will be speedy and seamless and that the European regulatory structure can carry on throughout this tumultuous period”.

Many inside the industry and regulatory circles believe that the MHRA will still have a role to play in European regulation after Brexit, and during the disruption caused by the relocation.

However, unless a bespoke deal is agreed, the UK will become a ‘third nation’ after Brexit, and this means the MHRA would not be able to supply services to the EMA network.

But Mishcon de Reya Competition Lawyer Natasha Pearman says a move to unfavoured locations such as Bratislava could have a massive impact on EMA staff retention, forcing the EMA to seek assistance from the MHRA.

Commenting on the remaining uncertainties, Pearman said: “Even after all the intense lobbying over the last few months, the decision could still come down to a drawing of lots if there is no clear winner after voting. Bookmakers have Milan in the lead as 2/1 favourite, followed by Bratislava at 5/1. [Bratislava has now taken the lead, and betting is now closed ahead of the vote]. However, recent staff surveys of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) show that a move to Bratislava would create serious disruption to the approval of medicines, with less than 30% of employees saying they would relocate to Slovakia. “

Pearman added: “This could give the UK some leverage in Brexit negotiations in that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) could – and should – position itself in such a way as to plug any gaps created by such a move.”

Pearman is one of many experts predicting the commercial implications for the medical industry could be significant, causing a marked slowdown in approval times for new medicines.

The EMA will hold a press conference tomorrow at its current headquarters in London, when the results will be known, to set out its plans for the relocation.

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