Brexit forces EMA to suspend tasks as job loss forecast jumps

EMA
The EMA's current offices in London. (xUnionManx/CC BY 2.0)

The EMA is suffering heavier than expected job losses as a result of its relocation to the Netherlands, forcing it to scale back and suspend more of its activities. International collaborations, development of guidelines and other tasks will slow significantly as the EMA focuses its dwindling resources on key functions. 

A 2017 survey of EMA staff suggested Amsterdam was the most popular of the cities competing to host the agency after Brexit, with 81% of employees saying they would relocate to the Dutch capital. The European Council’s choice of Amsterdam over less desirable cities as the EMA’s home therefore spared the agency the cataclysmic prospect of losing most of its staff. But the move to the Netherlands is proving to be more painful than anticipated.

The EMA now expects to lose 30% of its workers, up from the 19% predicted by its staff survey. Dutch employment rules are contributing to the situation. Under the rules, the EMA must part company with 135 short-term contract staff. The EMA employs around 900 people. That figure has already begun to go down as people who don’t want to move to Amsterdam take jobs elsewhere.

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Management at the EMA expects the exodus to accelerate as the March relocation date gets closer, creating a sizable period either side of the move in which it will function with a smaller-than-ideal workforce. The EMA is also worried about its ability to retain staff in the mid-term. A staff recruitment program is underway but isn’t expected to fully mitigate the job losses in the near-term.

Faced with this situation, the EMA is accelerating its retreat from tasks that won’t have an immediate effect on public health or product assessment and safety monitoring. By October, the EMA will play a minimal role in most international collaborations. The EMA wants to continue contributing to efforts linked to antimicrobial resistance and vaccines but will back away from these if its situation becomes particularly dire.

At the same time, the EMA will restrict guideline development to documents related to Brexit and urgent public health matters. That will have a knock-on effect on the frequency of working party meetings. The EMA will also stop publishing clinical data and only attend stakeholder meetings when they are related to Brexit.

These changes should be temporary but it will take the EMA some time to bounce back. If the EMA loses 30% of its staff, the agency’s forecasts suggest it will fully recover within two to three years.