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Life science community goes Dutch as Brexit moves EMA

Technical director Antony Appleyard at Diamond BioPharm. Cambridge Science Park firm is opening Amsterdam office. Picture: Keith Heppell
Technical director Antony Appleyard at Diamond BioPharm. Cambridge Science Park firm is opening Amsterdam office. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cambridge pharma obliged to adapt to loss of key EU organisation

The relocation of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from London to the Amsterdam has obliged Cambridge’s life science community to make post-Brexit plans – with one, pharma consulting organisation Diamond Biopharm, opting to open up its own office in the Netherlands.

The EMA has to relocate because it is a European Union agency for the evaluation of medicinal products, set up in 1995 with funding from the EU and the pharmaceutical industry to regulate drug availability in the EU. Its centre needs to be on EU soil.

The new HQ is due to open by March 30 next year – the end of the two-year transition period. As UK businesses struggle to decipher the government’s position, contingency plans are being drawn up. For Diamond Biopharm this involves setting up in Amsterdam, although its Cambridge and Harlow sites are expected to continue.

“We still don’t know which way it (Brexit) will go,” Diamond Biopharm’s technical director Antony Appleyard told the Cambridge Independent, “but the only way you know you can be sure you have your medicines in Europe is if your marketing authorisation is held with an established institution within the EU.

“We don’t know if there might be a different deal done – a softer situation – but at the moment we’re having to prepare for a hard Brexit. We know other companies are duplicating their services because it’s the only way to go. In terms of Amsterdam we’ve just set up the legal entity. We’re looking for people, and it could be that we don’t know until the deal is done what we’ll be doing in organisational terms.

“If, after March 29, 2019, we haven’t got a clear transition deal, those licences not held in an EU entity will need to be transferred.

“It’s so critical. We want to be ready for Brexit but we also want to offer more to our European clients, so it has to be part of our growth strategy too.”

Meanwhile Global Regulatory Services (GRS), a Cambridge-directed life sciences regulatory and compliance services firm, has stepped up its plans to develop a base in Sweden – ironically on the same site that AstraZeneca had before it relocated to Cambridge.

“Early in 2017 we were presented with an opportunity to have an office at Medicon Village in Lund,” GRS director Greer Deal said, “so after a few months of due diligence and getting our ducks in a row we opened an office there which currently represents our sales and marketing division. It is going extremely well.

“We’ve always planned to have a presence in Sweden so our decision to be there wasn’t because of Brexit, though with Brexit on the horizon it will prove to be of more value to us than originally expected because it will help us to futureproof our business with a solid presence in both the UK and Europe.

“Personally I don’t believe being located next to the EMA is critical to business, especially with everything being done electronically these days – the connections between East Anglia and Amsterdam are so good that it’s very easy to get there and back within one day.

“I do know of several business people who commute to Amsterdam on a daily basis. The beauty of the GRS business model is that we have Dutch regulatory and quality compliance specialists located in and around Amsterdam, so they are perfectly placed to support GRS and GRS’ clients.”

Antony Appleyard agrees on the travel arrangements.

“It’s easier to get to the Netherlands than London sometimes!” he said.

The commute received a boost this week when Eurostar announced a London-to-Amsterdam service, with one-way fares starting at £35. The trip take three and a half hours, with two departures daily.

The EMA has been based in London since it was established in 1995. It employs 900 people at Canary Wharf.

Asked for its views, AstraZeneca said: “We have not expressed a preference over any location but have always insisted that the national regulator of the host country has the right capability, that there is the right infrastructure in the chosen location and that it can be easily reached.

“It is now essential that a smooth transition of the EMA from London to Amsterdam takes place without significant loss of expert staff and without disruption to their important work.”

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