NGOs urge rapid relocation of EU drug agency

NGOs wrote to Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis that the imminent relocation of EMA was of “great concern for patients and consumers across the EU”. [Sarantis Michalopoulos]

Patient organisations warned the European Council yesterday (12 April) to be “vigilant” in the relocation of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), as well as avoid unnecessary delays that may cause disruptions in healthcare.

The British government’s triggering of Article 50 has heated up the discussion about the relocation of the EMA from London.

Contacted by EURACTIV.com, a European Commission spokesperson said that the decision on an agency’s seat is determined “by common agreement between the representatives of the member states meeting at Heads of State or Government level or by the Council”.

The 2012 Joint Statement and Common Approach on EU decentralised agencies, which was endorsed by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, sets out a number of criteria to be taken into account in order to contribute to the decision-making process for choosing an agency’s seat.

The accessibility of the location takes centre stage as well as the existence of adequate education facilities for children of staff members.

On Wednesday, three patients associations sent a letter to Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis as well as Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, stressing the need for a quick relocation of the agency.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), the European Patients’ Forum (EPF) and EURORDIS-Rare Diseases Europe said that the imminent relocation of EMA was of “great concern for patients and consumers across the EU”.

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According to the NGOs, the relocation decision should be made “as soon as possible” to ensure minimal disruption and avoid delays regarding the activities on pharmacovigilance and assessment of new medicines.

The prerequisites

The patient organisations called the Commissioners to draw to the attention of the Council the need to “be extremely vigilant in deciding on the optimal location”.

“This should focus on practical and environment factors which will govern EMA’s capacity to retain as many current expert staff members as possible, and attract and involve the best possible medical, scientific and civil society experts in future,” the letter states.

Regarding the suggested preconditions, the NGOs focus on the costs of the host country, especially in transportation and accommodation.

“An international airport hub with direct, reasonably priced daily flights,” the letter notes, adding that indirect flights often entail an additional day of travel and the cost of at least one more night’s accommodation.

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“Flight cost is also an important factor, impacting on the Agency’s budget, but also for patient and consumer representatives who are required to cover their own costs on occasion,” the organisations stressed, emphasising that the travel time from the airport to the agency location should be also taken into consideration, as well as a safe and inexpensive ground transportation.

Last but not least, the NGOs cited the availability of accessible hotel accommodation of different price ranges close to the agency.

Barcelona enters the race

Several EU countries have already expressed their interest in hosting the agency, such as Sweden, Denmark, Italy, France, Ireland, Germany, Greece, and Croatia.

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Barcelona recently entered the race to host the EMA with the support of the Spanish government.

In 1992, the Catalan capital offered to host the agency but ended up in second place after losing to London.

In a recent statement, the government of Catalonia stated that Barcelona already meets the requirements in terms of connectivity, communications, transportation, and infrastructure.

It, also, said that the pharmaceutical sector is one of the main assets of the country’s industry and an important contributor to Catalan R&D.

“Hosting the European Medicine Agency would strengthen the economic and social development of the capital city, and would, therefore, have a positive impact for Catalonia and Spain,” the statement noted.

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