In recent years, cell and gene therapies have been advancing at lightning speed, offering new hope to patients. However, there’s a pressing concern that could slow down this progress – a shortage of skilled professionals in this sector.
What are cell and gene therapies?
Before we dive deeper, let’s briefly define cell and gene therapies:
- Cell therapies replace diseased or damaged cells with healthy, living ones, often the patient’s own
- Gene therapies replace faulty or absent genes with working copies
These innovative treatments introduce the ability to ‘copy and paste’ the healthy bits of our bodies. Together they represent a new era of medicine, bringing hope to patients who previously had limited options.
What’s the issue?
Despite the potential of cell and gene therapies to transform medicine, there just aren’t enough skilled professionals in this space. According to the most conservative skills demand forecasts, the number of jobs in cell and gene therapy will need to grow by 117% from 2021 to 2026 to keep up with the pace of growth (2021 UK Cell and Gene Therapy Skills Demand Survey Report).
Positive steps have been taken by the sector to attract skills, such as a network of gene therapy hubs (co-funded by LifeArc) which include a focus on skills; however, this won’t be enough.
Our vision for addressing this issue
At LifeArc, we are excited by the incredible potential of cell and gene therapies. Over the past year, we’ve gathered leading experts and stakeholders in the field – from academia, industry, regulatory bodies, and healthcare providers – for a series of roundtable discussions.
Our goal? To come up with practical steps to address the critical skills shortages that could hold this sector back. Collaboration was key in shedding light on the multifaceted challenges facing the sector. By pooling the collective knowledge and experience of these participants, we’ve identified the critical hurdles that must be overcome to ensure the sector’s future success.
As the chair of these roundtables and LifeArc’s lead on academic-led gene therapy innovation, I’m thrilled to share 3 key insights and recommendations that emerged:
1. Collaboration will be critical
The main aim of this report is to encourage cross-sector collaboration and inspire the necessary political support for the UK to fully harness the potential of cell and gene therapies. Working together across actors and disciplines will make us more likely to nurture innovation, attract investment, develop essential skills, and position the UK as a global leader in this transformative area of medicine.
2. Making it easier to find and experience jobs in cell and gene therapies
There are already some great examples to learn from, whether that’s the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC), the UK BioIndustry Association’s (BIA) #BIGIMPACT campaign, or LifeArc’s Virtual Work Experience, Industrial Placements and two separate Technology Transfer Fellowship programmes – for scientists who are interested in building a career in technology transfer.
3. A national strategy
While everyone has a part to play, there is a clear role for government to create a UK-wide strategy and plan to expand, develop and train an industry-ready workforce to support the potential of the cell and gene therapy sector. Leadership from Government can focus minds, galvanise action and spur on the kind of whole-sector collaboration we need to see.
You can read more detail in our recent report, ‘The future of cell and gene therapies in the UK: Skills, training and development’.
A growing consensus
It’s important to recognise the many existing reports that have detailed the skills shortages within the cell and gene therapies sector. These reports have laid a strong foundation by highlighting the urgency of addressing this issue and the potential impact on our ability to stay at the forefront of innovation. Our findings build upon this earlier work, aiming to keep the conversation going and complement existing efforts.
Before wrapping up, I’d like to extend my sincere gratitude to all the participants and contributors who devoted their time and expertise to these roundtables. Their passion, insights, and commitment to driving progress in the cell and gene therapy field are truly commendable. Additionally, I want to thank the teams at LifeArc, Birmingham Health Partners, Public Policy Projects, and everyone else involved in producing this report for their hard work in capturing and distilling the insights of these discussions.
I’d also like to thank Liz Twist MP, who organised a debate on this topic. During that debate, both Liz Twist and Will Quince acknowledged the vital work done by LifeArc as one part of this exciting new ecosystem intended to transform people’s lives.
A vision for the future
In closing, I invite you to read this report with a sense of optimism and possibility. Together, we can seize the opportunity presented by the cell and gene therapy sector and lay the foundation for an agile workforce that nurtures innovation, advances patient care, and drives economic growth. Together, we can make life science life changing.
About the author
Anji Miller is the Senior Business Manager in Technology Transfer.