The assumption to date has been that the European Medicines Agency will have to move from its London base when the UK leaves the EU. But things may not be quite that simple.
UK prime minister Theresa May has said that the formal negotiation process that will lead to the UK leaving the EU will begin by the end of March 2017, meaning the country could be out of the trading bloc by April 2019. One of the many unknowns with regard to Brexit is just how the European Medicine Agency’s new home will be chosen – if indeed the agency has to move from London.
The EU treaties do not formally state that EU agencies must be located in an EU member state, but the assumption to date has been that post-Brexit the EMA will probably have to move from London to a city in another EU country. There is no shortage of candidates vying to host the EMA in this eventuality.
Not everyone wants the EMA to leave London, though. While there have been no public pronouncements, the UK government, the UK drug regulatory agency (the MHRA), UK-based universities and research institutions, large swathes of the pharmaceutical industry and the many service and support companies and organizations that have set up in and around London to be near the agency would undoubtedly be happy for the agency to stay… not to mention many of the EMA’s 890-strong staff. Outside the EU, Japan has said clearly that it would prefer the EMA to remain in London. Also see "Japan Wants EMA To Stay In UK Post-Brexit" - Pink Sheet, 13 Sep.2016.)
The Pink Sheet and its sister publication Scrip have heard suggestions that the EMA could perhaps have its headquarters in the EU while keeping its operations in the UK.
(Also see "Brexit: Issues and Opportunities As UK Life Sciences Define A New Relationship In Europe" - Scrip, 27 Sep.2016.) Objectively one might think that would be the sensible solution: a compromise that would mean minimal disruption to the staff and operations of the EMA. However, with national interests at stake, such a compromise may not be on the cards politically.
“It doesn’t only depend on the merit of the issue itself but on a lot of other issues.”
Anders Lönnberg, the life sciences coordinator for the Swedish government who spoke to the Pink Sheet on Sweden’s aspirations to host the EMA post-Brexit, is dismissive of speculation that the agency might stay where it is. “It can’t stay in the UK. I can’t possibly see that anyone would accept that you have an EU agency if you are not a member of the EU,” Lönnberg said.
“Informally I guess everyone has already said to the EU authorities that they are interested, then they will begin to compare, see what the individual countries have to offer, but finally it is the decision of the member state governments,” Lönnberg commented. And as he says, more is at stake than working out who is the best candidate. “It doesn’t only depend on the merit of the issue itself but on a lot of other issues.” Those issues will be as much political as anything else.