As Brexit nears, EMA improves staff retention forecast, commits to uninterrupted drug evaluations

Amsterdam (Pixabay)

The European Medicines Agency has increased its forecast of the proportion of staff that will relocate with it to Amsterdam. Buoyed by the improved outlook, the agency has predicted its core drug evaluation activities will be unaffected by the Brexit-enforced move.

Managers at the EMA have assessed the likely effect of Brexit on staffing since shortly after the U.K. voted to leave the EU in 2016. An early survey performed before Amsterdam was chosen for the EMA’s new headquarters suggested 81% of the agency’s 900 employees would move to the Dutch city, making it the most popular destination among the staff. But last year EMA warned just 70% of employees may make the move, forcing it to take additional mitigating actions. 

Now, the EMA has tweaked its forecasts once again. Going into 2019, the agency thinks it will retain about 75% of its staff. While that forecast is below the figure predicted by the original 2017 survey, it is above the EMA’s more recent projections and would be enough to avoid the most cataclysmic predictions about the impact of the move on the agency.

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Back in 2017, the EMA said the retention of 65% or more of staff would enable it to largely maintain its drug approval and safety monitoring activities, although some reviews may be delayed. The EMA said a 65% retention rate would enable it to continue public health initiatives such as antimicrobial resistance work, albeit at a slower pace, and that compensatory measures would be likely to work. Under that forecast, EMA would fully recover within two to three years.

The latest staff retention forecast suggests the EMA is on course to pull off such a relatively painless move to Amsterdam, emboldening the agency to state it “expects all core activities related to the evaluation and supervision of medicines to continue without any interruption or delays foreseen and to the same quality.”

While the EMA expects to have enough staff to perform those key tasks, the anticipated job losses and general upheaval have led it to cut back in other areas. The EMA took three waves of actions last year and began 2019 by initiating another round of cuts to its activities. The agency plans to share details of the latest set of temporary reductions and suspensions to its workload shortly.

The EMA is also set to enact some cuts that it disclosed last year, such as the temporary cessation of pre-submission meetings that is due to run for about one month starting Feb. 11.  

The situation in the country the EMA is leaving is considerably more uncertain. At the time of writing, U.K. politicians are hours away from voting on whether to accept or reject the terms of withdrawal agreed with the EU. If, as expected, parliament rejects the deal, a plethora of scenarios including a hard, no-deal Brexit and the delaying of the U.K.’s departure from the EU are possible. 

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