Bungled Brexit move would trigger public health crisis, warns EMA

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has warned that it could face a mass exodus of staff if its new home is a city not favoured by its employees.

The medicines regulator will relocate because of Brexit, with 19 cities applying to be its new home. Dublin, Paris, Amsterdam and Stockholm are said to be among the favourites, with Bucharest, Warsaw and Zagreb regarded as the outsider candidates.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has conducted a survey of 92% of its workforce to gauge sentiment about relocating to each of these candidate cities.  It has published its findings, and without naming each city, it is clear that the agency could lose hundreds of staff if it moved to an unfavoured location.

It has dire warnings on this score. In its worst-case scenario, the retention rate would be less than 30%, which the EMA says would leave Europe facing a public health crisis as the regulator would be unable to function properly with a skeleton staff.

The single market for medicines would unravel, with no central authorisations of drugs, the paper warned.

The EMA says this would amount to a public health crisis if the wrong location was chosen.

It says Europe would rely on third countries to approve new drugs and they would need to be imported, and patients could be exposed to side effects, leading to deaths and litigation.

A best-case scenario would see a retention rate of more than 80%, should EU officials choose the most popular location among EMA staff in a complicated vote in November.

Even this could lead to delays approving medicines and slower progress on projects such as building greater collaboration with health technology assessments bodies.

The regulator has already said that some staff have left because of the uncertainty caused by Brexit, and the latest staff survey indicates that a wrong choice for its new location would be a disaster.

The EMA will have to face the logistical challenge of moving location, and find ways to cover a considerable amount regulatory work currently conducted by the UK’s MHRA as part of Europe’s network of national agencies.

Already a group of five candidate member states have emerged from the 19 candidate cities as preferred options for EMA staff, but for now the regulator is not naming them.

The EMA’s presence in London has been seen as a factor in the success of the UK’s life sciences industry since it began operations in 1995, with pharma companies choosing to set up operations in the country in order to forge close links with the regulator.

A seperate analysis by news website Politico concluded that Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Austria are among the most committed to winning the bid.

While the staff survey has not named the states in the survey it would be safe bet that one or more of these front-runners were among the most popular with EMA staff.

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