EMA picks WHO's Cooke to replace Rasi as executive director

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) management board has nominated Emer Cook to be the next executive director of the agency. Cooke, who works at the World Health Organization (WHO), will replace Guido Rasi later in the year if she comes through the remaining steps in the hiring process.

Thursday, the EMA management board selected Cooke as the next executive director after talking to the shortlisted candidates. EMA is yet to share details of the subsequent vote, but Cooke needed to secure the backing of two-thirds of the 36-person board to win the nomination. The next step is for Cooke to make a statement to a European Parliament committee. 

Assuming the European Parliament supports the appointment, EMA will issue a contract to Cooke, positioning her to take up the executive director position. Rasi is set to step down as EMA executive director Nov. 15.

In nominating Cooke, the management board has turned to an EMA insider to lead the agency. While Cooke currently works as director of the regulation and prequalification at the WHO, she spent most of her career at the EMA. Cooke rose through the ranks at the EMA from 2002 to 2016, culminating in her holding the title of head of international affairs at the time of her move to the WHO.

Cooke, who spent four years at the pharmaceutical unit of the European Commission before joining the EMA, will bring experience of handling tasks including the strengthening of regulatory systems to her role leading the agency as it seeks to execute its five-year plan. The strategy calls for the EMA to support developments in precision medicine and innovation in clinical trials.

Rasi helped draw up the plan in one of the later major acts of his eventful spell as executive director of the EMA. In 2011, Rasi took over as executive director, only to have his first term cut short when a European court annulled his appointment due to concerns with the hiring process in 2014. The EMA reappointed Rasi the following year after the agency repeated the hiring process. 

Across his two stints as executive director, Rasi has contended with the fallout from Brexit, notably the need to relocate the EMA to Amsterdam, major changes to the regulation of medical devices and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.