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Does the European Medicines Agency’s move to Amsterdam presage a brain drain from the UK?

Last week’s long-awaited announcement of the new home for the European Medicines Agency (EMA), from March 2019, puts the big question behind us but raises plenty more.

For the 900 or so people working at EMA, most of whom have indicated a willingness to move – at least so far – there will be the familiar complexities of managing a move abroad. The generous tax treatment of their compensation packages may be hard to find elsewhere but against that will have to be weighed the challenges of moving families to a new country. After reflection, the cold light of day may cause some to change their minds about a move to the Netherlands so will there be enough talented people lining up to take their jobs?

For Amsterdam, the questions are clear and largely practical. EMA isn’t a large organisation but it could attract other related organisations over the coming years. If the authorities plan properly to attract companies and employees – who have very different but connected needs – EMA’s move could trigger a boom in attracting pharma jobs to the city. Housing, schools and transport will all have a role to play, but over time, and with good planning, Amsterdam could make itself even more attractive to the life sciences sector.

Perhaps the biggest questions are faced by the UK itself – as if it doesn’t have enough to consider right now. The obvious one is how to stop a brain drain. Will pharma and biotech companies start to move larger numbers of people out of the UK to Amsterdam? Will the experts at the UK’s MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency), who will start to lose some of the more interesting work that they do for EMA, decide that it’s time to move on? Will the UK become a less attractive place for the pharma industry overall?

This week, we have seen part of the UK Government’s response. The new industrial strategy places a big bet on the life sciences and rightly so. Monday saw big inward investment announcements by Merck and Qiagen, with the promise of more to follow. Time will tell if this is enough or if the European pharma map is set to change with a shift to the East.

If you’d like to discuss any of these issues of hear more about our Proof of CandidateTM methodology and how it can help you, do contact me.

Paul Foster, Senior Consultant |

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