List of would-be European Medicines Agency host cities lengthens, as head calls for rapid decision

Twenty-one of 27 post-Brexit member states have thrown their hats in the ring. (EMA)

The queue to host the European Medicines Agency is lengthening by the day, with most of the 27 countries remaining in the EU post-Brexit now laying out the welcome mat for the regulator.

With the U.K. government triggering Article 50 and starting the two-year divorce process last month, only one thing is clear—the EMA will be moving from its current base in London for a new home on the continent at some point in the future.

According to a Reuters report, 21 out of the 27 EU member states have already expressed interest in hosting the EMA, with the ultimate decision on its location to be made by the Council of the EU, the group made up of the leaders of the EU member states. Just about everything resulting from Brexit is up in the air, however, and there is no clear idea when the fate of the regulator will be decided.

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As it stands, the list of countries in the running are Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain, said the news agency.

The prize for claiming the EMA is an organization with an annual budget of €322 million (around $340 million) and almost 900 highly skilled workers, as well as an influx of around 36,000 experts a year to its meetings—a valuable asset for any EU country and its pharma industry. The U.K. has hosted the EMA since it was formed in 1995.

There had been suggestions that it may be possible for the EMA to remain in the U.K. in the wake of the U.K. referendum that called for Brexit, but that idea became untenable when the British government confirmed it would no longer be subject to the decisions of the European Court of Justice. Now, the emphasis is on maintaining as close ties as possible between the EMA and the U.K.'s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The EMA itself is maintaining a determinedly neutral stance on the matter, but its executive director—Guido Rasi—wants a decision to be made as quickly as possible to minimize disruption to the agency's operations and avoid any public health issues during the transition phase.

It has been reported that several key members of staff have left the agency, and the EMA is finding it harder to attract recruits, with Rasi telling Reuters last month that the number of applicants for its trainee program had slumped to 700 from 2,000. He said he was hopeful of a decision at the next council meeting, scheduled for June.