Witty warns of ‘tremendous disruption’ if EMA exits London

EMA

GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty has said moving the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from London will cause “tremendous disruption.” Witty is worried that moving the EMA and its 900 staff members from London to another European city post-Brexit will cause upheaval that affects the smooth running of the regulatory machinery.

The fate of EMA is one of many questions raised by the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union. Politicians across Europe are lobbying for the EMA to move to their country once the U.K. leaves the EU. And, faced with threats that foreign biopharma investment will fall if EMA leaves London, the U.K. is also pushing to retain the headquarters of the regulator even as it plans to sever its links to the EU.

Witty, like other pharma execs with major U.K. operations, wants the EMA to stay in London. To make the case, Witty has branched out beyond the links between the EMA and the U.K. regulator that others have played up. The CEO chose instead to focus on the best outcome for patients, which also happens to be his preferred result from a business perspective.

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“A lot of staff are going to have to change positions,” Witty told Bloomberg Television. “Those who don’t leave have to relocate. This is a regulator who is keeping an eye on the health and safety of hundreds of millions of Europeans. You don’t want them with their eye off the ball.”

There is evidence that the uncertainty created by Brexit is already affecting the EMA. Talking to European politicians earlier this month, EMA Executive Director Guido Rasi said good candidates for jobs at the agency are withdrawing their applications, Regulatory Focus reports. Six employees resigned in the month following the Brexit vote. Rasi wants additional measures to support staff.

The uncertainty is likely to continue for some time. When asked about how the U.K. will handle drug approvals and other regulatory tasks post-Brexit, the politicians in charge of managing the process have given a range of noncommittal answers.

Some government politicians have proposed a Norway-style relationship that keeps the U.K. in the EU regulatory network. Others have shown a willingness to make a clean split. A middle ground that sees the U.K. standardize its approval process with the EU in an attempt to avoid becoming a lower-priority market for drugmakers is also on the cards.

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