Universities feel effects of EMA move to Amsterdam

The European Medicines Agency or EMA will relocate to Amsterdam in the Netherlands when it leaves London in 2019, the General Affairs Council of the European Union has decided.

The EMA brings economic benefits to its location, attracting some 36,000 annual visits from experts each year, boosting hotels, restaurants and other services. Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern earlier this year calculated that the victor could enjoy a €1 billion (US$1.2 billion) lift.

But the EMA also brings benefits to academia, because it supports research projects, learned societies and research groups, and its presence can stimulate investment in its field of research in the host country.

Many of the research projects that the EMA is involved in form part of the Innovative Medicines Initiative. This is Europe's largest public-private initiative, which aims to speed up the development of better and safer medicines for patients. The Innovative Medicines Initiative supports collaborative research projects and builds networks of industrial and academic experts in order to boost pharmaceutical innovation in Europe.

Academic institutions collaborate with the EMA in promoting and developing regulatory support for translating academic research into novel methodologies and medicines, ensuring the best scientific expertise and academic research is available to inform regulatory decision-making, and researching regulatory science.

Academics and researchers also participate in the work of the agency as members and experts of its scientific committees and working parties, in preparing scientific guidelines, as seconded national experts, as visiting experts and by taking part in conferences and workshops.

Dutch Minister for Healthcare Bruno Bruins said: “In Amsterdam the EMA will be able to continue its important work without interruption after Brexit. The agency can continue to grant access to new, innovative medicines without delay and will still be able to respond quickly and effectively in the event of problems with a given drug.”

Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Halbe Zijlstra said: “This is a fantastic outcome. It’s good for the Netherlands, but above all it’s good for EU citizens who can continue to count on high-quality medicines and proper supervision of medicines. It shows that we can tackle the effects of Brexit with resolve.”

Bert Leufkens, chair of the Dutch Medicines Evaluation Board, announced that the board will increase its scientific capacity to take a larger share of the post-Brexit workload. The Netherlands is investing €10 million to expand the board’s capacity and to help strengthen other national medicines agencies across Europe.

Limiting the UK impact

Sarah Haywood, CEO at MedCity, the life sciences cluster organisation for London and the Greater South East in the UK, said that while it was disappointing that the EMA was relocating after 22 years in London, the UK’s domestic regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency or MHRA, will continue to enable access to new medicines and products.

“Now we must focus on limiting the impact of the relocation by ensuring our regulation system is aligned with the EU, and we are working with the Mayor of London to reduce any disruption for researchers and companies, and, ultimately, patients.

“With over 1,300 life sciences companies, world-class teaching hospitals, a strong pharma pipeline, and two of the world’s top 10 universities, I am confident that London will continue to thrive as a centre of research and innovation,” Haywood stated.

Professor Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities, told University World News the decision would probably have no immediate effect on UK universities, but is the first real Brexit blow to the UK, along with the relocation of the European Banking Authority to Paris.

He said the presence of such an institution always creates links with top local institutions – universities, research institutes, companies – and top expertise nearby, for consulting, meetings, conferences and other activities.

“That was certainly the case in London, and these links will probably now be lost and will move to Amsterdam.”

Professor Johannes VanLeeuwen, dean at the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, said EMA will move to a high density knowledge and academia area with the medical centres of the Erasmus, Leiden, Utecht, and Amsterdam universitis and the Technical University Delft all close by.

Stimulus for research investment

“The presence of such an institution can also be a stimulus for national authorities to give investment priority to that field of research and activity and this can be expected to happen in the Netherlands,” Deketelaere said.

Swedish universities will be disappointed with the choice of the Netherlands. If it had gone to Sweden it would have been based close to the Karolinska Institute, the new Karolinska University Hospital and the Science for Life Laboratory – which brings together researchers from four host universities, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University, Uppsala University and Karolinska Institute.

Karolinska Institute Vice-Chancellor Professor Ole Petter Ottersen had backed Sweden’s bid, arguing that it would mean “better possibilities to create contacts with other areas of life science research in Europe”.

Once the EMA leaves the UK, there is concern some international drug manufacturers may follow.