EU asked to think of patients in picking EMA site—oh, and schools and housing too

With a vote on a new home pending, the European Medicines Agency has pointed out that it will have to get a new HQ set up and running in less than 17 months, a process that usually can take up to two years.

Tick. Tick. Tick. With time running perilously short for the massive relocation of the European Medicines Agency, EU members are being urged to think hard about which country could get the EMA up and running the quickest, not about how great it would be to host an EU agency with nearly 1000 jobs and millions of euros in benefits.

Drugmakers through their primary EU lobbying group said a decision needs to be made on “the basis of essential and objective criteria that place patient health at their core.” The EMA itself pointed out that the host city not only needs to quickly approve and help ready a specialized building, it needs to help 900 workers find affordable housing and schools for their 600 children.

“With the numerous technical aspects that need to be managed to ensure continuity of care for patients in relation to Brexit, Europe must get the EMA’s relocation right,” said Nathalie Moll, director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) in a statement Monday.

The group also has warned that there could be supply interruptions and drug shortages, if the EU and U.K. cannot reach an agreement for handling drug approvals and imports and exports well ahead of the March 30, 2019 Brexit deadline.

RELATED: Pharma warns of drug supply disruptions without a Brexit deal

The EU members vote Nov. 20 on which of 19 cities will get the EMA prize. While the EMA has not made any specific recommendation, it has released a list of employee’s top picks, which includes Barcelona, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Milan and Vienna.

It also said that a lot of their experienced staff might not move if the EMA is moved to some cities in the running like Athens, Bucharest, Helsinki, Malta, Warsaw or Zagreb. The agency warned it wouldn't even be able to retain 30% of its employee base if it moves to any of those locations.

RELATED: EMA unveils staffers' preferences for agency move: Amsterdam gets a yes, Warsaw a no

Whatever the pick, the EMA recently pointed out that the ambitious timetable to withdrawal of  the U.K. from the EU on March 30, 2019, leaving less than 17 months for the agency to get a facility approved and ready and staff moved.

Given that process typically can take up to two years, the EMA said a new host country and all the agencies involved will need to find “workable solutions” to expedite the approval processes and allow work “to be carried out in parallel, rather than in sequence.”

Aside from getting a building up and running, the EMA said its staff needs info as soon as possible so that workers can look for a place to live and find the right schools for their children. Some will even want to get them enrolled this year for the 2018/2019 school term.