Europe's Drug Agency Warns of Bigger Staff Losses in Brexit Move

Europe’s drug watchdog is bracing for higher-than-anticipated staff departures due to its Brexit-induced move to Amsterdam, raising pressure on the agency that oversees medication safety for about 500 million people.

A host of issues, including the effect of local labor laws on short-term contracts, could boost employee losses at the European Medicines Agency beyond 19 percent, the level it estimated last year, Executive Director Guido Rasi said in an interview at its headquarters in London’s Canary Wharf district. Hitting that target will be “very challenging,” he said.

“The level of uncertainty is still high because of practicalities,” Rasi said. “We are monitoring it on a daily basis.”

With a workforce of about 900, the EMA is emigrating to the Netherlands just as it begins evaluating more complex products, such as therapies that correct gene defects. The move has sparked concerns about disruptions at the agency — the EU’s equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — although Rasi said he doesn’t expect a slowdown in approving new medicines.

Housing searches, rising costs of living, finding jobs for spouses and partners, and uprooting as many as 500 children are among the issues EMA employees face as Britain prepares to leave the EU in March 2019. Short-term contractors could also be affected since Dutch law allows them to become permanent after two years.

The shift to a new home is delaying training in areas such as big data and gene therapies and slowing improvements to technology systems, Rasi said. However, in one positive sign, he said the agency has a reserve list of more than 1,000 applicants that it can tap when it needs to fill vacant roles.

“There will be a dip, but we will be back and we will be back as strong and as good as ever,” he said.

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