By Ben Hirschler
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is to scale back operations further as it copes with higher than expected staff losses, triggered by the watchdog’s forced relocation from London to Amsterdam because of Brexit.
“Overall, EMA expects a staff loss of about 30 percent, with a high degree of uncertainty regarding mid-term staff retention,” Europe’s equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement on Wednesday.
The EMA employs around 900 staff and is the biggest EU institution affected by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
EU ministers selected Amsterdam from 19 cities as the new home of the EMA at the end of last year and it must relocate to the Dutch city by the end of March 2019, when Britain exits the EU.
Initial staff surveys suggested that 19 percent of staff might opt not to relocate to Amsterdam – but the agency now thinks this is a significant underestimate, especially as 135 short-term contract staff will no longer be able to work for it under Dutch employment rules.
As a result, the agency will cut back on a number of activities, including international collaboration, revision of guidelines and clinical data publication.
“In the short- to mid-term EMA will have to reprioritize its resources to fully maintain its core activities related to the evaluation and supervision of medicines to the level of quality and within the timelines expected,” it said.
The EMA has been based in London since 1995, acting as a one-stop-shop for approving and monitoring the safety of medicines across Europe and its population of around 500 million.
The move from London has already sparked a legal row with the agency’s landlord, which wants it to keep paying a rent bill estimated at around 500 million pounds ($660 million) under a 25-year lease signed in 2014.
Brexit will also require a significant redistribution of supervisory work, following the loss of UK experts from the regulatory system.