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EU drugs agency cuts workload as prepares for Brexit disruption

LONDON (Reuters) - Europe’s drugs regulator is cutting back on lower-priority work as it prepares for disruption caused by Brexit and the need to relocate from London to another city inside the European Union.

The headquarters of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), is seen in London, Britain, April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Tuesday its “business continuity plan” meant it would suspend work on a new web portal and an electronic submission project for drugs, as well as the development of a transparency roadmap.

It is also cutting the number of audits, some corporate governance and support activities, and fewer EMA staff will in future attend external meetings or conferences.

The moves will free up staff to focus on the regulatory fallout from Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and the agency’s relocation, while allowing it to continue with the vital work of assessing and monitoring the safety of medicines.

The EMA employs nearly 900 staff and acts as a one-stop-shop for drugs oversight across Europe. Its announcement comes on the same day as EU officials disclosed that 19 European cities had applied to replace London in hosting the organisation.

Medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies have long warned that the forced relocation of the EMA - Europe’s equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - could jeopardise the smooth-running of drug supervision.

And the agency’s executive director, Guido Rasi, has said he fears losing experienced staff who may not want to relocate their families.

Noel Wathion, Rasi’s deputy and head of the agency’s Brexit task force, reiterated the challenges on Tuesday.

“Preparing for the move, managing the necessary changes, and addressing challenges such as possible losses in skilled and experienced staff, in a proactive and efficient way requires considerable internal resources,” Wathion said.

“With the business continuity plan we aim to ensure that the assessment of medicines is not disrupted and that patients in Europe continue to have access to high quality, safe and effective medicines.”

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Mark Potter