EMA, a springboard for Barcelona's knowledge economy

EMA will find in Barcelona the main hub of biomedical research in southern Europe

This autumn Barcelona may be the chosen one. If the European Medicines Agency (EMA) chooses our city among the nineteen candidates to host its HQ, it would be a major boost not only for the Health and Life Sciences sector (HLS), the pharma industry, biotech, medical technologies and other businesses, but also for the city’s economy in particular and, in general, for Catalonia’s.

If the EMA moves to Barcelona city, it will stay here. Unlike other events, which come, transform the city and become a significant source of income over a certain period, the EMA would remain part of our daily reality. The investment, the talent, the pool of companies and professionals, among others, would be steady. And the quantitative and qualitative leap in the field of health research would be a fact.

For over a decade, Barcelona city has been immersed in a shift of productive model that advances towards the knowledge economy. In the last three years, the move to the knowledge economy has gained momentum and up to 175 businesses were set up in the city between 2013 and 2016 in the field of biomedicine and the HLS, 95 of which are spin-off companies endorsed by hospitals and research centres. Furthermore, Barcelona and its area of influence feature 31 biomedical, health sciences and animal health research facilities.

EMA will find in Barcelona the main hub of biomedical research in southern Europe

Barcelona is the world’s second smart city; in other words, it is the runner-up in the application of ITC technologies to improve people’s quality of life and the city’s sustainability. It ranks ninth among the world’s 60 best cities for highly innovative start-ups. It features eleven university hospitals and outstanding scientific facilities, such as the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre (BSC), the ALBA Synchrotron and the CNAG (National Centre for Genomic Analysis).

This strategy based on boosting research has allowed Barcelona city to become the fifth city in Europe and the seventeenth worldwide in volume of scientific production.

As for Catalonia, a report published by Barcelona’s Chamber of Commerce on the HLS sector shows that the Catalan economy’s turnover grew from 3.1 to 3.8 per cent between 2011 and 2014. The weight of the HLS industry is on a par with the catering and hospitality industry’s, whose turnover was €18.49 billion in 2014.

The report highlights the fact that the pharmaceutical sub-sector more than doubles the average productivity of the Catalan economy as a whole, and the salaries paid nearly double the Catalan average. It is the industrial sub-sector that invests the most in R&D. Between 2000 and 2016, it multiplied the volume of exports by five, which accounts for 7.8 per cent of all of Catalonia’s exports and 45 per cent of Spain’s pharmaceutical exports.

As well as having a productive model increasingly based on the knowledge economy, the EMA should pick Barcelona because the city meets all the requirements in terms of having a suitable building within the set schedule (the iconic but equally functional Torre Glòries), as well as the proposed HQ’s accessibility and international connectivity. Barcelona airport is the ninth in Europe in terms of passenger traffic, it boasts direct flights to 21 European capitals with over 80 direct flights per day. It also connects Barcelona with Asia and America daily.

To sum up, the EMA will find in Barcelona the main hub of biomedical research in southern Europe and the city will find that the EMA is a decisive boost to consolidate its productive model, which aims to turn science into applied market technology to guarantee medicines that are safe and efficacious to improve the health of millions of Europeans.

Barcelona city is officially a candidate now. Twenty-five years on, the Olympic spirit has been present in the coordination and joint efforts of the three administrations involved. They must continue working together, with the inestimable support of civil society (which they have), if we wish our candidature to succeed. All that is left now is for the necessary alliances to be forged in the assessment and voting system of the new HQ. We have already met all the goals and initial requirements, and we exceed most of them.