Who Will Host The European Medicines Agency?

For those of us working in the sector, the future location of the European Medicines Agency has been a consistent topic of conversation since the outcome of the Brexit vote became known. There is no doubt that the UK’s decision to leave has caused some upset for the 600 members of staff at the agency. In a human context, their livelihoods and the location of their employer are now in the air. The EMA is one of a number of agencies that are now being courted actively by European governments in an attempt to persuade them to choose their cities.


The intervention of the Japanese government in early September 2016 brought the EMA issue further into the open and threw down the gauntlet to the British government in relation to current and further Japanese investment in the UK’s life sciences sector. In a 15 page letter, Japanese officials told their counterparts in the UK that if the EMA leaves the UK then the budgets of biopharma companies may follow. The letter stated:

“If the EMA were to transfer to other EU Member States, the appeal of London as an environment for the development of pharmaceuticals would be lost, which could possibly lead to a shift in the flow of R&D funds and personnel to Continental Europe”.

Despite the threat and the large scale of Japanese investment in the sector in the UK, it is unlikely that there will be any acquiescence to their demands. Moderate voices in the UK media are increasingly indicating that we will see a ‘Hard Brexit’ i.e. a move to exit the single market and to restrict the free flow of people into the UK. In this instance the departure of the EMA from its headquarters in London is all but guaranteed.

But where will it end up? The weeks and months since the June vote have seen a constant trouping of elected officials and representatives from numerous governments in and out of the Canary Wharf headquarters of the agency. Already, a number of countries have moved ‘into the lead’ in the race to land the agency.

Milan wants to Host The European Medicines Agency

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London and Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of Milan meeting in London in July 2016. Photo Credit: Beppe Sala/Instagram

Many see Milan as being the front runner. It’s charismatic Mayor, Giuseppe Sala, was one of the first elected officials to meet with officials at the EMA once the outcome of the vote became known. Milan is regarded as Italy’s financial services centre and an ideal location for start up businesses. One of the main reasons that so many cities are seeking this asset is that there is a belief that its presence will incentivise pharmaceutical companies to locate in proximity to the EMA.

To that end, there are reports in Italian media that the Mayor, in association with the embattled Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, will seek to create a tax-free zone in the city in an attempt to entice foreign direct investment from pharmaceutical companies. Milan, it must be argued, is a significant contender, if not the main contender in this endeavour. The country’s pharmaceutical sector is Europe’s second largest in production terms and Italy is the world’s largest exporter of medicines per capita. The city is not just seeking to secure the presence of the EMA in the capital of Lombardy. The Consiglio Comunale are also keen to bring the European Banking Authority to Milan.

The Danish government has also made overtures, albeit obliquely, at this stage. There have been numerous media reports that Danish firm Novo Nordisk has lobbied the Danish government to seek to host the EMA. The country has a track record of hosting such agencies as it currently hosts the European Environment Agency.

Copenhagen faces stiff competition from Stockholm. The Swedish city has already established a working group to manage the projects. Speaking in July of 2016 Anders Lonnberg, the Swedish Life Sciences Coordinator told ‘The Times’ that “you cannot have an agency of the EU if you are not a member”.

Ireland want to Host The European Medicines Agency

Irish Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD, speaking at the BioPharma Ambition conference in Dublin Castle on September 22nd 2016 where he announced that the Irish government will make a formal bid to host the EMA in Dublin. Photo credit: IPHA

Dublin, because of its proximity to the current headquarters, coupled with the fact that Ireland is also an English speaking country is perceived by many as being well placed to host the EMA. Health Minister, Simon Harris TD, speaking at the BioPharma Ambition conference in Dublin Castle in September said that the Irish Government was ready to submit its bid to host the EMA and that it would be highlighting the excellent R&D and pharmaceutical environment as part of its endeavours. The Minister highlighted the proximity issue as a major advantage in Ireland’s bid to secure the agency for Dublin. He said “given the importance of the work of the agency, it is important that disruption be kept to a minimum when it relocates from London.” Speaking at the same event, Chief Executive of the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association Oliver O’Connor said that Ireland had a strong case to put to the EMA. “I think that it would be a good addition to the capability that Ireland has already demonstrated on a global scale for manufacturing, development and high regulatory standards” he said.

Frankfurt, Madrid and Lisbon are also actively seeking to host the EMA in their respective cities.

The decision on where the EMA will be located will need to be made very soon. It is expected, as referenced in the introduction, that Article 50 will be triggered in early 2017.

This is an excerpt from the Acorn Regulatory whitepaper ‘Heading for the Exit’ published in October 2016.  You can read the entire whitepaper and download it now by clicking here.

UPDATE January 2017:  We have continued to monitor the situation regarding the European Medicines Agency and we have produced a brief video that looks at the likely hosts (as of January 2017).  You can watch it here:

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