Relocation of the European Medicines Agency – France shows EMA its smooth moves

The bids to host the EMA are in. You can find the bid documents and videos here. In case you missed it, you can read our own pitches written by our colleagues across Europe here.

By Cécile Derycke and Charles-Henri Caron

With Brexit under way, the European Medicines Agency is looking for a new home. France revealed itself as a serious contender when it considered offering not just one hosting place for the Agency, but five! Up until recently, the cities of Strasbourg (in the east), Lille (in the north), Lyon (in central France), Montpellier (in the south) and the Ile-de-France region (suburban Paris) had expressed their willingness to welcome the EMA. The EMA would have had a tough time choosing between such beautiful and different regions. Not to worry! The French government has taken the matter into its own hands and it is Lille that officially represents France and offers EMA a smooth move. Close to London, the same type of weather (i.e. easy adjustment) and warm people to welcome the EMA staff - what could be better? But obviously, this is not France's only argument; it still has several more up its sleeve. 

The pharmaceutical industry is indeed a strategic sector for France, in particular, in light of its contribution to employment, growth and trade balance. The French pharmaceutical market was in 2015 the second largest European market and the fifth worldwide with 53.2 billion euro turnover, 25.4 billion of which was generated by export sales[1]. This is notably reflected by two facts: first, France is ranked second with 43,000 jobs in the pharmaceutical sector; and secondly, French pharmaceutical companies are listed in the top 10 pharmaceutical companies worldwide, alongside Swiss, English and North American companies.

But if the pharmaceutical industry is strategic in France, it is not only for economic reasons. It also comes from the French multi-century scientific culture, particularly through research and development. France still offers a very dynamic R&D environment thanks to the presence of major world-renowned organisations, such as the CNRS (the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique), the Pasteur Institute or the Curie Institute. It also provides excellent conditions for innovation due to powerful and supported academic research (eg university independence and tax credit granted for research) and an effective network of partnerships between public organisations and private companies or research centres.

These innovation-friendly conditions have proven their efficiency since 10% of the turnover of French pharmaceutical companies (branded products and generics combined) was devoted to R&D in 2015. They also ensure that French research has an expanding influence worldwide: in 2014, France carried out 10% of international industrial studies, in particular, in oncology (38% of the studies) and infectiology (16% of the studies)[2].

The French health system in general is constantly evolving and will offer the EMA reliable interlocutors with strong expertise. The brand new French Minister for Public Health, Mrs. Agnès Buzyn, a renowned haematologist who until recently headed the French High Health Authority (HAS – Haute Autorité de Santé), bears a lot of hope in this respect. With her leadership and President Macron's frequent statements on the importance of science and research, France looks very much like the new promised land the EMA is looking for.

Now, let's look at the smooth transition the city of Lille has to offer. First, let's remember that Lille was already a candidate to host the EMA in 1993 and ranked second at the time (with the 1993 winner now running away, well…). Indeed, Lille has strong arguments. It offers a central location within Europe (very helpful to host pan-European meetings) and a direct link to London thanks to Eurostar (for those who would like to continue to enjoy the English weather and commute). Last but not least, Lille provides a vibrant life sciences environment with approximately 27,000 people working in the health sector, generating a turnover of 11.5 billion Euros.

You got it! Now is the time for Lille to take its revenge! Who said the French were impatient?

[1] LEEM, French economic record (for the French pharmaceutical sector), 2016 edition
[2] Ibid, footnote n° 1