The building matters. Barcelona wants to be the seat of the European Medicines Agency –the body responsible for scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines within the EU, which will be transferring from London as a result of Brexit – and is making available the Torre Glòries, formerly the Agbar Tower, for this purpose. The building designed by Jean Nouvel, which is similar to London’s own Gherkin Tower by Norman Foster, is prepared to handle the 900 employees. The agency, in London since 1995, would occupy 23,500 square metres and receive some 40,000 visits each year, which represents a significant additional impact.
Besides the building and the great international connections, however, Barcelona and Catalonia also offer a very interesting scientific, economic and institutional environment. Half of the domestic and international pharmaceutical companies with facilities in Spain have their headquarters in Catalonia, which is home to 230 laboratories, 90 of which are also manufacturers. The Catalan pharmaceutical sector is considered the fifth most productive in the EU, and has emerged in recent years as a European pole for the performance of clinical trials.
Universities, science parks, research centres, major hospitals, large technology centres, research support infrastructures all form an important network of knowledge, innovation and talent. For example, there are the hospitals of Hospital Clínic, Vall d’Hebron, Trías i Pujol; the Mare Nostrum Supercomputer at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center; the National Center for Genome Analysis; the Alba Synchrotron, an electron accelerator that enables research into atomic structure, or the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in the Biomedical Research Park of Barcelona.
Preference for Barcelona
Barcelona is also a city with many cultural and leisure attractions, besides its climate. If the choice were left to the workers currently engaged at the agency, the Catalan capital would be the outright winner. According to an internal survey among employees, in which 687 of them took part, published by the newspaper La Vanguardia, 78 % indicated their willingness to move to Spain (the survey did not mention cities). After Barcelona, the choices were for Holland, France, Italy, Austria and Denmark, all countries which have presented very suitable candidates for the new seat of the European Agency. Or, to put is more clearly, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Milan.
But it is not only a question for the transfer of the European employees, but of the many bodies, organizations and companies who want to be close to the regulating body. There is an estimated ecosystem of 1,600 companies that could move to Barcelona and would also benefit from the strength and international recognition of the pharmaceutical and biomedical cluster in the Catalan capital.
The most important factor is that the option of Barcelona has the support of all institutions –the State, Generalitat and City Council – and widespread popular support in which all manner of organizations are represented, from medical associations, pharmacists, economists and engineers at Barcelona Global and associations of the pharmaceutical sector such as Farmaindustria.
The presence of the European Medicines Agency can create all kinds of synergies in such a highly-developed sector as health. The number of specialist international congresses and trade fairs underline its importance: from such major events as the European Cardiology Congress which is comfortably accommodated in the Gran Via site, where it returns on a regular basis (once again in August 2017), to new approaches such as Healthio, which was launched this year by Fira de Barcelona, which explores new ways to apply technology in the field of healthcare. Nor should we forget that Fira held CPhI in 2016, the largest global event for the pharmaceutical industry, which is also a protagonist of the Expoquimia fair in October 2017.