Relocation of the EU Medicines Agency – Spain

By Álvaro Abad

"Spain is waiting for the EMA.  Barcelona is ready".  With this conviction, and with the conviction that everything is ready, the Spanish Minister for Health addressed the European Commissioner for Health & Food Safety, Mr Vytenis Andriukaitis, to express the desire of the Spanish Government – and, in particular, the Catalonia Government and the city of Barcelona – to become the next headquarters of the EMA.

This fact (Barcelona eventually becoming the city hosting the new headquarters of the EMA) would undoubtedly please the majority of the EMA's employees.  According to an internal survey regarding the potential countries hosting the new headquarters, which involved 687 EMA's employees, 78% stated that they would probably, or very likely, move to live and work in Spain (not only – we guess – because of the weather, food, beaches and a very long etcetera).  Of course, in addition to the more than evident quality of life offered by Spain, each EMA employee would be able to develop his/her work in the best professional conditions.

Indeed, the staging of Spain in terms of health in recent years is unquestionable.  Proof of that has been the recent research on access and quality of health systems issued by The Lancet - one of the most influential medical journals in the world - which resulted in a very interesting ranking of 195 countries according to the performance of their health systems.  This study took into consideration all kinds of diseases as well as the expenditure per inhabitant or the number of hospital beds per 1,000 people.  Spain obtained 89.6 points out of 100, number 8 in the ranking; better scoring than other important Member States such as Germany, France or Italy.  The progression of Spain in this regard is enviable and is set to continue in the coming years.

With regards to the pharmaceutical industry, Spain is among the top positions in the European Union in terms of sales, employment generation and production.  The professionalism, knowledge and quality of Spanish healthcare professionals are globally recognised.  In more internal terms, the pharmaceutical industry is postulated in Spain to be a leader in research and as a strategically key sector when it comes to setting up a new growth model.  In particular, the medicinal products market is constantly expanding compared with previous years.  For example, in 2015, the total medicinal products sales in Spain increased by more than 10% over the previous year.

We cannot fail to mention that the Spanish Agency of Medicinal Products and Medical Devices (AEMPS) is recognised in the European context as one of the most solid regulatory medicines agencies.  Proof of that is evidenced by: (i) its actions relating to the fight against falsified medicinal products, being the AEMPS the leader of the working group within the European network for the implementation of the provisions envisaged in the Directive on falsified medicinal products; and (ii) the fact of Spain being the first Member State in adapting/developing regulations on clinical trials of medicinal products for human use after its publication, with a 14.5% increase in the number of clinical trials over the previous year (2015).

Likewise, the Spanish candidacy stands out from other candidates for the fact of having already a building that allows for rapid relocation - the unique and emblematic Agbar Tower, designed by Jean Nouvel.  Since, apparently, the deadlines for such relocation are tight, the Spanish candidacy could guarantee a fast transfer without the EMA's activity being affected for too long.  Additionally: (i) the educational opportunities in Barcelona (41 international high schools, 9 universities/colleges and 5 business schools) are more than adequate; (ii) flight connections are unbeatable; and (iii) few cities have so many prestigious research centres in such a small space, as well as global infrastructures such as the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre or leading hospitals like the Clinic and the Vall d'Hebron.

The experience of Spain in terms of hosting European bodies is undeniable.  Currently, the following European Agencies are located in Spain: (i) European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (Bilbao, País Vasco); (ii) European Fisheries Control Agency (Vigo, Galicia); (iii) European Space Astronomy Centre (Madrid); and (iv) European Union Intellectual Property Office (Alicante).  This is a considerable achievement and, from a Spanish Government perspective, the successful operation of these bodies sets a fine example, and the experience gained will be instrumental in guaranteeing future success.

Finally, it should be remembered that the city of Barcelona was finalist in 1992 in the race to host the headquarters of the EMA at that time.  Why could it not be the winner in this occasion?  It is an ideal location for it; as the Spanish Minister for Health said a few weeks ago "Spain is waiting for the EMA.  Barcelona is ready".