EMA’s post-Brexit location to be decided today

The location of the European Medicines Agency after Brexit is to be decided today, as representatives of member states vote in a complex secret ballot that could end with a coin toss.

A meeting of Europe’s General Affairs Council will meet in Brussels to decide the fate of the EMA, along with the European Banking Authority.

The London-based European Medicines Agency has already made clear the locations that it favours from among a plethora of bids from different member states.

It argued that moving to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Milan, or Vienna would cause the least disruption, while moving to one of the smaller cities could cause major upheavals to drug regulation in Europe.

Barcelona may have fallen out of favour since then, because of the political upheavals in Spain and Catalonia, but reports indicate that Milan is favoured among those voting.

But there are also suggestions that Bratislava could have a serious chance of winning the vote as there is a political desire to have a major EU agency situated in a country that doesn’t already have one.

Slovakia fits this bill and is emerging from left field as a contender, despite warnings from EMA staff that moving anywhere outside the five favoured cities could have quite serious consequences.

It also got the same top marks in the EMA’s technical analysis of facilities and has voting commitments from Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Could coin toss decide EMA’s fate?

The new location will be decided in a secret ballot with up to three rounds of voting handily outlined by Politico – if a candidate city is first choice of at least 14 member states at round one, then this is immediately crowned as the winning the bid.

If not, the top three scores got to the next round, where any state gaining more than 14 votes gets the EMA.

Should the second vote prove indecisive, the top two cities are selected for another vote, which will produce a winner if it attracts 14 votes or more. If that final vote does not produce a winner then the EMA’s fate could be decided by a coin toss.

Whichever destination is chosen, there are concerns that there will be some degree of delay getting new drugs approved, and disruption to the EMA’s other functions.

Clinical trials transparency campaigner Dr Ben Goldacre said that moving around 900 highly qualified staff will always cause upheaval.

He also said that the move may also push them to find alternative employment in the pharmaceutical industry, creating a regulatory brain drain in Europe.

In a statement posted online he said: “It really doesn’t matter which city is chosen. Brexit, and the EMA move, will be mindbogglingly expensive, and hugely harmful for patients, both in Europe and in the UK.”

We’ll bring you more on this story, including the results and reactions from pharma, biotech and patient organisations.

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