Dublin faces many challenges in bid to be new EMA host, but can it win?

30 May 2017

Bus passes by Trinity College Dublin. Image: massimofusaro/Shutterstock

Can Ireland establish itself as one of the most influential centres of medicine in Europe, if not the world? The Government appears to think so.

Following the shock Brexit result announced almost one year ago, Ireland has been eagerly eyeing up opportunities across the Irish Sea.

Future Human

With negative effects expected in the years to come for Ireland’s trade with our nearest neighbour, industry and academia in the UK are pondering their next move.

You only have to look at JP Morgan announcing its plans to move into a new office in Dublin – capable of holding 1,000 staff – to see how quickly Ireland can become a new English-language European hub.

Yet it is the life sciences sector – one of Ireland’s biggest employing and most funded sectors – that the Government sees one of the biggest opportunities.

Currently based in London, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is a regulator that conducts scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines developed by pharma companies for use in the EU.

Given its remit, being based in a non-EU state doesn’t exactly fit the bill, so it is now searching for a new home.

Ireland certainly has a lot going for it in terms of its potential ability to woo EU representatives to move the EMA here, given that 13 of the top 15 medical devices companies are based in the country.

The Irish EMA campaign began just as the dust was starting to settle in the UK in October of last year, with Minister for Health Simon Harris, TD, confirming the bid.

In the Government’s statement at the time, Harris said one of Ireland’s advantages was that setting up here would “minimise the disruption” to the business of the EMA.

It is only now, however, that Government efforts have been ramped up ahead of the final submission date of 31 July, with the winning bid to be selected this October.

Earlier this month, Harris revealed that the Government, along with almost all of Ireland’s relevant academic and industry partners, will try to help convince Europe of Ireland’s advantages.

Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com, the Department of Health said that the benefits would not just be purely economical.

“The benefits for Dublin include being at the centre of the protection of the healthcare systems for all EU citizens, and to being at the forefront of medical research and innovation – an area in which the Irish third-level education sector and life sciences industry is particularly strong,” it said.

What does Ireland have to do to win the bid?

According to Science Business, a document from the European Commission has been circulated to bidding states, explaining what they need to do to be considered.

For starters, the relocated EMA building would need to be operational by 1 April 2019, when the UK officially withdraws from the EU.

Additionally, a major contributing factor for the winning city will be its “availability, frequency and duration of flight connections from the capitals of all EU member states”.

While Ireland is well connected internationally through airlines such as Ryanair, there are still EU member states (Slovenia, for example) that are not serviced by Dublin Airport.

Pharma consulting firm Acorn Regulatory is one organisation that has examined Ireland’s chances using a standard SWOT analysis.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ireland’s low corporate tax rate – still something of a thorn in the EU’s side – is put forward as one of Ireland’s strengths, along with the fact that 50pc of our exports are within the pharma industry.

What are the challenges?

The potential negatives of the Dublin bid include the ongoing housing crisis and poor infrastructure.

What’s more, the EMA said that it would need access to 350 hotel rooms per night, and availability of schools for multiple nationalities and denominations for the 600-plus children of EMA staff.

In response to such challenges, the Government said that Dublin is an “evolving and growing city”, citing several projects underway including the Luas Cross City as well as major new housing schemes in the pipeline that will “become available in the short to medium term to meet the need of the growing population”.

Another less-expected threat suggests that the Government could be hit with some unwanted financial costs of moving the London office to Dublin, due to the EMA signing a 25-year lease as recently as 2014.

This hasn’t stopped Dr Derick Mitchell, CEO of the Irish Platform for Patient Organisations, Science and Industry, recently saying the move would be “ a seamless transition” for the EMA.

But, when it comes to making a convincing case, it would appear that Ireland’s bid will need to be near-flawless as it is merely one of 20 countries with its eyes on enticing the agency.


A pile of ampoules. Image: NEStudio/Shutterstock

The major contenders

While Ireland’s advantage is its proximity to London, allowing for an easier transition of staff for international commuters, Copenhagen, for example, boasts a strong infrastructure and a highly desirable location to live.

If Dublin is to have a chance of coming away with a major victory this October, it will need to beat other luminary cities such as Amsterdam and Barcelona, which is by no means an easy feat.

Even if the Irish capital does not do enough to convince the EMA, however, the Department of Health maintained that Brexit will still bring major benefits to the country’s life sciences sector in the years to come.

“We already have investments in manufacturing, but with Brexit, these same companies – particularly North American companies –will need a new location for the test, release and launch of new drugs,” it said.

“Ireland is already seeing growth in the presence of global clinical research organisations, including our own Icon.”

It added that for companies supplying a large proportion of their product to the UK, a decision by the British government to be completely cut off from the European regulatory system would be problematic.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic