Packing Up & Moving – The EMA in Amsterdam.

The transfer of a manufacturing process or technology from one plant to another within a company can be an arduous process. It involves careful consideration of the impact to the existing site and a rigorous selection process to ensure that the new site is fit for purpose and that there is little interruption to productivity. The 900 staff to Amsterdam of The European Medicines Agency are, in many ways, much like the staff of a life science manufacturing firm; highly skilled and large in numbers. They too are now faced with dealing with the upheaval of their processes from one site to another. Whereas the aforementioned manufacturer might have spent years planning their move and determining the most appropriate site in an effort to minimise disruption, The European Medicines Agency had its new host city chosen by the drawing of lots from a glass bowl.

Such an unconventional selection has brought about uncertainty and disruption. Almost immediately after being chosen to host the Agency news filtered out that the proposed building in the Zuidas district of Amsterdam would not be ready for occupation until at least November 2019. One of the most talked about criteria in the search for a new host city was the need for a seamless transfer from the current base in London to the Agency’s new permanent base in their new host city. This news provoked some disquiet from unsuccessful bidders in the process, most notably that of Milan.

Now, while the foundation stone at Zuidas has been set and work has begun to construct a new EMA headquarters other issues are dogging the Agency as they plan their departure from Churchill Place in March 2019.

Firstly, the anticipated loss of staff is expected to be greater than the forecasted loss of 19%.  According to figures distributed to the media in December 2018 by the EMA, the loss is expected to be in the region of 25%.  This was somewhat anticipated in 2017 when the EMA was carrying out scenario planning on all applicants to host the organisation. In an interview with Bloomberg in May 2018 the Executive Director of the European Medicines Agency, Guido Rasi, said that maintaining 81% of the existing workforce would be “very challenging”.

Building a team in Amsterdam that can continue to deliver the EMA’s services has been further complicated by the strictures of Dutch employment law. The Agency’s options to use contractors to supplement members of staff dutring the transition has been hampered by the stipulation in Dutch employment law that all contractors would automatically gain the same rights and entitlements from a company when they have worked for two years with the company. This is an issue that will complicate the EMA’s attempts to resume normal operations in as quick a time as possible.

The breakneck nature of the move coupled with the potential loss of almost twenty per cent of their staff has led the Agency to state that it will be proritising some work over other work and that companies can expect delays in their interactions with the EMA. Aside from delays to interactions with external parties, the move has also seen the delay in rolling out training on areas such as gene therapies and big data. Nevertheless, Executive Director Rasi has said in all of media interactions that this will be a short lived delay to the workings of the organisation.

Brexit, without doubt, will impact on many critical agencies and none more important than the European Medicines Agency which has responsibility for safeguarding and licensing medicines for use by almost half a billion people.

*UPDATED January 2019*