Saturday

22nd Jul 2017

Stakeholder

Let’s not put European public health at risk

  • Copenhagen ranks as the most efficiently managed city, with a very well-connected airport only 15 minutes away from the city. (Photo: vic xia)

Brexit brings many challenges to Europe, but only one element stands to seriously endanger European public health: The relocation of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

When it comes to ensuring public health and patient safety, or fostering innovation that leads to jobs and growth, EMA has set the standard on how to deal with approving new medicines and the surveillance of medicines that are already on the market.

As a former CEO of Novo Nordisk, a Danish multinational pharmaceutical company, I know very well the advantages of a well-functioning EMA.

The predictability and fact-based approval processes are essential for both patients and the wider industry. That benefits all Europeans. Every day. All the time.

The role of EMA is too important to fail. That is why we need to find a suitable location for the agency. A location with a vibrant life science cluster, excellent universities, great connectivity and a place where people working at EMA will continue to live and work.

If the relocation of EMA is not handled speedily and with respect paid to the needs of the agency, EMA could be at serious risk of not being able to continue safeguarding European patients.

In any relocation process, the retention of skilled employees is a key issue. The most important factor for any person considering to move is “where to?” Uncertainty about where to relocate will lead staff to consider and seek other opportunities.

Swift decision needed

Even a departure rate of 15 percent of the staff could hamper EMA’s operations. This is worrying, and necessitates a swift decision.

EMA is an attractive agency for any country - including Denmark – and it is only natural that more than 20 EU member states are presenting themselves as possible new hosts.

But it is important that all relevant criteria are taken into account, such as the scientific and technical requirements of the agency.

EMA needs to be able to function from day one. Therefore, I am arguing for a swift decision based on objective criteria.

It makes a huge difference where the agency is placed just as it would for a company. This is why the notion of clusters has become so important in policy-making over the last couple of decades. We need to learn from this, and apply it to the relocation of EMA.

Earlier this year, EFPIA, Medicines for Europe and EuropaBio communicated six criteria to the EU institutions on which they believe the decision should be made: 1. A good local medicines agency which is ready to take on increased responsibilities; 2. a dynamic and large life sciences cluster; 3. a good research and scientific environment; 4. well connected to all EU capitals; 5. good and attractive quality of life; and 6. a suitable building for the agency.

When I was the CEO of Novo Nordisk, we closely monitored and benchmarked European life science clusters on a range of parameters on an ongoing basis to evaluate competitiveness.

In 2016, Novo Nordisk asked KPMG in Switzerland to have a look at what the picture would look like among the various potential contending cities, and the results were quite clear.

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

Denmark has one of the most robust life sciences clusters in Europe, with over 140 life sciences companies and 193 products in development phases (ranking 2nd in Europe).

Additionally, the Danish government has committed to expanding the capacity of the Danish Medicines Agency, building on an agency which is already held in high regard. This will be important to secure that Denmark takes its share of the capacity gap, which will arise from the departure of the UK.

Furthermore, the University of Copenhagen has a centre of regulatory science – the only one in Europe – which includes regulators, academia, industry and patients, ensuring an ecosystem of regulatory science in close proximity to the agency.

When benchmarking the size of the local scientific and research community, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark are in the lead, but in scientific co-publications per capita, Denmark clearly outperforms the rest.

Add to this that Copenhagen ranks as the most efficiently managed city. It has a very well-connected airport that is only 15 minutes away from the city and has even recently launched significant expansion plans.

Naturally, a city like Paris has more hotel capacity, and several airports, but Copenhagen’s infrastructure would more than meet the needs of EMA – and although hotel capacity is already more than sufficient, it is rapidly expanding.

High quality of life

For the families who would have to move to Copenhagen, I can guarantee a high degree of quality of life.

Copenhagen ranks very high in a number of other relevant areas, including access to growth opportunities, number of international schools including a European school, work-life balance, and gender equality.

We will gladly share the Danish “hygge”, meaning a feeling of cosiness, with the EMA employees who are more than welcome in Copenhagen.

When putting it all together, the number of potential homes for EMA is actually quite small. Three, or maybe four cities in Europe live up to the specific requirements. That is why the decision needs to be swift and based on objective criteria.

Although any decision on the relocation of an EU agency will be political, the decision on EMA is too important to end up in a political game.

Hopefully the EU will reach a conclusion to ensure that Europe can continue to set the international standard in terms of a well-functioning and highly skilled scientific agency for the benefit of all.

Lars Rebien Soerensen is the special envoy of the Danish campaign to bring EMA to Copenhagen.

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