Meeting the recruitment challenges of the European Medicines Agency move to Amsterdam

01 Mar 2018

Meeting the recruitment challenges of the European Medicines Agency move to Amsterdam

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will leave London for Amsterdam on March 30th, 2019 at the latest. We spoke to Dutch industry insiders Aarnoud Overkamp and Annemiek Verkamman for their view on the possible outcomes of this major relocation of the body that ensures that all medicines available on the EU market are safe, effective and of high quality.

What effect will the relocation of the EMA to the Netherlands have on pharmaceutical and biotech companies and jobs in the country?

Aarnoud Overkamp:  The arrival of the EMA will be a magnet for countless companies that want to offer their services here. This will be very good for employment opportunities.

Because the Netherlands offers support to inventors, the Dutch are a leader in patent applications of medicines. Having the EMA right around the corner will be a great advantage.

Another advantage is the good collaboration that already exists between pharma and biotech companies and the eight universities in the country. The arrival of the EMA will give a great impulse to R&D activities in the Netherlands. 

Another wider matter is the debate on (the pricing of) new medicines. This can get heated, but there is hope that the arrival of the EMA will lead to a more constructive dialogue on this matter.  

Annemiek Verkamman: Coming from a biotech background, I think that if biotech firms or pharmaceutical companies outside of Europe had been considering expanding to the continent, the Netherlands just grew in popularity due to the relocation of EMA.

The biotech sector is a very important one in the Netherlands and is destined to receive a large boost. The country will bring in more high-quality employment opportunities, and a greater recognition of the quality of the biotech sector is expected here.

In the Netherlands, there are also many scientists that are well versed in regulatory innovation. There is a lot of that needed because of the current one-size-fits-all system that will have to become a more personalised approach. We need innovative approaches to get new therapies faster and better from bench to bedside. I am looking forward to exploring new possibilities together with all stakeholders.

Personalised medicine is the future; medicines that target smaller groups of people. The EMA is known to be sympathetic towards regulatory innovation, accelerated accessibility of promising medicines will gain momentum.

If the EMA relocation is a loss for the United Kingdom, what is the gain for the Netherlands?

Aarnoud: The Netherlands is given a great opportunity to develop itself as the (bio) pharmaceutical hub of Europe. R&D is of very high quality, its research climate is highly regarded and its logistics and the infrastructure is considered one of the best.

It would not surprise me if the Netherlands becomes the prime location for leading companies in this sector.

What’s more, a beneficial public-private collaboration is characteristically Dutch, and this is attractive to a lot of organisations. For a very good reason, an initiative has been launched called PharmInvestHolland that aims to highlight the benefits of Holland for R&D in pharma.

Annemiek: Personally I consider Brexit, with regards to innovation, development and cooperation, a lose-lose situation for all parties involved in Europe due to British expertise that may be lost in the process.

Thankfully, the successful Dutch EMA bid aims towards making this relocation as smooth as possible in terms of continuation in the approval of medicines and providing a new home to EMA employees and experts. As Aarnoud also indicates, the Netherlands is able to provide the same high-quality conditions that EMA is already used to. These conditions, in addition to the EMA relocation as a further boost, are the foundations on which the already flourishing Dutch biotech sector can build upon.

What kind of people will the EMA require?

Aarnoud: It will be about mostly high-quality jobs, people with specialised knowledge on medicines, research and development.

Because of the high quality of life in the Netherlands, it will be attractive to many to come and work here. The whole of the pharmaceutical sector in the Netherlands is now good for 165 000 jobs. With the arrival of EMA, that number will only increase and contribute much more greatly to the Dutch economy.

Annemiek: Yes, there will be a special need for those who are higher educated, with knowledge on the development of medicines. People with an overarching view, that know what is needed in the future to evaluate medicines on effectiveness and quality, and those that have in-depth knowledge with regards to developments that pertain to regulatory innovation

But does The Netherlands offer enough highly-skilled individuals to draw on as the need grows?

Michaël Mellink, Senior Partner and Head of the Life Sciences practice of Odgers Berndtson Amsterdam, shared his views.

With a number of companies, start-ups and new biotech companies expected to move to Amsterdam’s vicinity, we might see a large influx of companies that used to have their location in the UK, moving to the Netherlands.

Also, many new medicines are coming to market from a biotech origin. This will require a number of qualified people to commercialise those ideas.

For example, people that do market access, medical affairs at government institutions and regulatory affairs. They will have to further establish regulations for Europe and set up the whole commercial machine that will need roll-out there.

To do that from the Netherlands is relatively easy. The Dutch speak many languages and have highly qualified people, many with an entrepreneurial spirit. The move gives an enormous economic boost and ensures the Netherlands puts down its marker as a country of innovation in biotechnological development and research.

Where will the skilled people come from?

If getting enough of these kinds of highly-skilled people from the vicinity of Amsterdam becomes tricky, no problem. Schiphol Airport is a large Western European hub. It offers easy access to people from Switzerland to Paris and London to get to Amsterdam within an hour.

Of course, there will be people that won’t feel like commuting. For those people, replacements will have to be found.

The reality is that highly-specialised talent is never easy to find, which is where we come in. At Odgers Berndtson, we can offer organisations the market-specific knowledge on the roles they need to fill. Not only in an operational and organising sense, but especially on a substantive level.

Through our global network of industry specialists, we can draw internationally on high-calibre leaders for senior commercial, research, regulatory and general management positions.

We’re also able to identify and develop exceptional leadership across a biotech or pharmaceutical company, so they can successfully drive innovation and growth.

Whether it’s the EMA itself, or the businesses drawn by its presence, we’re close by to help and advise. After all, our office is just ten minutes from the EMA’s proposed new European headquarters building!

Aarnoud Overkamp is Managing Director of Takeda in the Netherlands, a large global pharmaceutical company, and Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Domain Applied Science, a foundation that is committed to the quality of applied sciences education in the Netherlands. Furthermore, he is Vice-chairman of the Board of Vereniging Innovatieve Geneesmiddelen, the branch organisation of pharmaceutical companies (formerly known as Nefarma).

Annemiek Verkamman is the Managing Director of HollandBIO, a privately funded association bringing together dozens of Dutch companies and organisations that are active in the field of biotechnology. She is also Board Member of EuropaBio and of the Royal Dutch Chemical Association (KNCV).