As Europe prepares to deal with the impact of 60 million citizens leaving the European Union’s single market of 500 million consumers when the United Kingdom exits from the EU in less than 2 years’ time, the centre of gravity for Europe is shifting towards the East. Two of the important issues to be managed in this historic shift are how to supervise Europe’s future market for pharmaceuticals in a way that will protect patient safety both in the UK and in the EU, and where to locate the European Medicines Agency, which will be forced to move its headquarters from East London to a new European host city.
The EU will decide where to move the EMA by a secret vote in the General Affairs Council in Brussels on 20th November. Bratislava, where I was born and educated, is one of the candidate cities to host this agency and I would like to think that the tide of history is in favour of their application. As a young scientist in 1965, after receiving my degree in medicine from the Comenius University of Bratislava and the equivalent of a PhD in virology, my wife and I made the decision to emigrate to New York. This was a momentous and life-changing decision, but we never looked back. I was given a warm welcome in the United States and offered opportunities, which enabled me to develop a productive career in biomedical sciences, including a chance to participate in the development of Remicade, a highly successful drug for the treatment of autoimmune diseases.
When the European Medicines Agency moves to its new home, it is important that the host country extends the same warm welcome and offers similar career opportunities to the talented young scientists working at the EMA and their families that move there. I know and understand that moves like this are not to be taken lightly, but would advise anyone considering a move to my native Slovakia not to hesitate.
Bratislava is a city that I know well, and I am confident that any young scientists moving there from the West will enjoy excellent career opportunities. The city is open and welcoming; it is modern and efficient with many new start-up businesses, but it still maintains the same charm that I remember fondly as a younger man, and it has a sophistication today that can compete with any European city. Bratislava has come a long way since the dark days of communism that forced me to cross the Atlantic, With its close proximity to Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Bratislava is now in many respects as international as London. It is certainly more European; it has embraced the euro as its currency and is a member of the Schengen area that allows the free movement of people across borders within the EU. Vienna’s international airport is a 30-minute drive from Bratislava. It is also a safe and secure city offering an excellent and affordable living environment with many cultural attractions and a high quality of life.
I also believe that relocation of the European Medicines Agency from London to Bratislava can be a real catalyst for economic change across much of Central and Eastern Europe. There is an entrepreneurial buzz about Bratislava in the scientific community, as many new ideas and businesses are starting to flourish in life sciences, biomedicine, healthcare, research and development. Eastern Europe has for decades educated excellent health professionals and scientists who made their careers, as I did, in the West. Slovakian universities produce very good scientists, and Western students have also taken advantage of the high quality of academic teaching in Eastern European Universities to study there. There is much greater international mobility today for those engaged in medicine and life sciences than ever before, and Slovakia is keen to compete to employ the brightest and best scientists, including their own home grown talent.
With this decision about the future location of the European Medicines Agency Europe has the opportunity not only to balance the geographical distribution of their Agencies to acknowledge that the centre of Europe is moving East, but also to provide for a fairer distribution of the benefits that such organisations can bring to their host countries. Innovation in health and medical technologies is Slovakia’s top priority for research and development, and the country deserves support from the EU for its preferred strategic direction to generate the employment opportunities it needs for its future economic development as a key member of a stronger, more stable and more united Europe. Bratislava’s rich heritage in scientific and medical excellence also makes it a natural choice for this award.