Former Novo CEO is Denmark’s joker in the fight for EMA

The Danish government has now officially announced its intention to bring the European Medicines Agency to Denmark and has made former Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Rebien Sørensen its “special envoy”. He will compete with a top diplomat from Sweden, among others.

Photo: Finn Frandsen/Ritzau/arkiv

Lars Rebien Sørensen is now able to add the title “the government’s special envoy for the European Medicines Agency” to his CV. It is a role he was presented in at the government’s press briefing concerning its official candidacy for the soon-to-be homeless EMA offices, which are currently placed in London.

“The Danish government has announced that Denmark will work towards getting the European Medicines Agency (EMA) relocated from London to Copenhagen, when the United Kingdom leaves the EU,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs writes in a press release published on its website at noon local time.

The government points to “a strong Danish tradition for safeguarding patient safety, an important research environment and a thriving and innovative pharmaceutical industry” as reason why Denmark should host EMA post-Brexit.

“I am very pleased that today, after months of preparation, we can formally announce the candidacy of Copenhagen as the new seat for the EMA. There is no doubt that the competition is tough, but I am convinced that it will be valuable to both the EMA, Denmark and the EU to place the Agency in Copenhagen,” says Minister for Foreign Affairs Anders Samuelsen, adding:

“Denmark has one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical industries, we already host the WHO’s Regional Office for Europe, and Copenhagen is a centrally located and dynamic bridge to the rest of Europe. That is why I, together with the rest of the government and the new special envoy, Lars Rebien Sørensen, in the coming months will work hard to gain support for Denmark’s candidacy.”

“With his in-depth knowledge of the pharmaceutical sector and large international network, Lars Rebien Sørensen will work closely with the government in the coming months to promote the Danish candidacy,” the Ministry writes.

Interesting choice

At Danish Regions, the interest organisation for the five regions in Denmark, chairman Bent Hansen highlights the former Novo chief’s credibility.

“It’s a very interesting choice and it’s really important to have a person representing Denmark with such a strong CV and such great credibility. I sincerely hope that Rebien succeeds with this,” he tells MedWatch.

The location of EMA after UK’s exit from the EU is of great concern, as the Agency itself employs 900 people and it could greatly boost job creation and the life science environment wherever it is placed.

“It is important that we ensure optimal conditions for the EMA to fulfill its tasks, as patients in the EU need to have confidence in the medicinal products on the market. That is why the EMA should be located where there are strong traditions for focusing on patients with regard to safety, patient rights, and transparency,” says the Danish Minister for Health Ellen Trane Nørby, adding:

“In order to ensure patients in Europe access to new medicinal products, the EMA should be located where the Agency can benefit from collaboration and synergy with both public and private development of pharmaceuticals. If Denmark is chosen, we will be ready to deliver what the EMA needs and together with the City of Copenhagen ensure that proper care is taken of the employees and their families.”

Diplomat versus executive

But Denmark is far from the only European country that wants to host EMA. A number of nations have expressed an interest in the agency, among them Sweden, which has formed a secretariat specifically for that reason.

It is led by former Ambassador Christer Asp, a man with solid diplomatic experience. He has been the Swedish Ambassador to Serbia, Montenegro and Turkey. In 1995 to 2000 he served as Head of Cabinet to the Swedish EU-Commissioner responsible for justice and home affairs. Prior to that he was a member of the Swedish negotiating team for membership of the EU and he has been posted to a number of Swedish foreign missions.

“I hope it carries weight that we bring someone with a corporate approach, who can see the needs and expectations of the industry. It is the industry that needs to be close and needs EMA to look into its regulatory matters. But I assume the government has given him a mandate as he is the official representative, so he can cover both areas,” says Bent Hansen.

A strong profile

Lars Rebien has steered Novo Nordisk to phenomenal growth rates during his more than 15 years in charge of the Danish diabetes group and has on numerous occasions been crowned the top CEO in the world.

“I can’t really see how we could be in a better position in regard to the private industry. When they have also settled on a balance between the official Denmark and the role he plays in that regard, I can’t really see how they could have chosen a stronger profile,” the chairman adds.

Lars Rebien Sørensen was a part of Novo Nordisk for 34 years and acted as CEO from 2000 to 2016. He is vice chairman of the board in Danish brewery group Carlsberg and a member of the board of directors in US-based medical device group ThermoFisher Scientific and German media group Bertelsmann. As of April 1st, he will also join the board of directors in the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Danish liberals prepare to fight for EMA

Danish pharma association reiterates wish to host EMA post-Brexit

Lif is ready to take on the Swedes: EMA should go to Denmark

Brexit could cause long-term headache for Novo Nordisk

Danish life science companies look to the UK in spite of Brexit

- translated and edited by Martin Havtorn Petersen

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