Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMP’s) offer exciting new opportunities for the treatment of disease and injury. But in such a fast-evolving therapeutic landscape, do we have the right skills and capabilities in place to identify, develop and bring the next generation of ATMP’s to patients?
I joined a panel discussion at Advanced Therapies Integrates 2021 to explore this important question. The session was facilitated by James Strachan, Editor at The Cell + Gene Curator. The other panellists included Chris Nowers, CEO at ONK Therapeutics, Charlotte Casebourne, CEO and Co-Founder at Theolytics, Stephen Ward, CMO at the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and Colin Mackay, Founder and CEO at Symbiosis Pharmaceutical Services Ltd.
The panel opened the session by discussing how the rapid rate of development in advanced therapies is creating a huge demand for talent in the UK and worldwide. With a large amount of private equity coming in, more and more companies are starting up and increasing in both scale and complexity. This is creating a skills gap not only at the C-suite but also in several areas including manufacturing, informatics, genomics, and translational cross-functional leadership. Plugging this skills gap will require careful planning and implementation to build a talent pipeline that can meet the industry’s need in the mid to long term.
To build a robust talent pathway, the panel emphasised that we need to look both forwards and backwards to think about how people are coming into the sector. Fundamentally, it starts with education. Outreach in schools and universities can encourage students to choose STEM subjects and help young people to understand what career options are available to them. Apprenticeships, new university courses and specialist programmes will play a crucial role in developing the next generation of talent. This will require collaboration between government and industry, as well as targeted investment in skills and training.
Further along the talent pipeline, the focus shifts to upskilling and re-skilling through tailored professional development programmes. Cell and gene therapy is a relatively new field so candidates simply cannot be expected to have several years of experience. Companies should be hiring based on potential rather than previous experience and will need to look beyond traditional talent pools and consider people from other sectors.
To meet demand, the panel also suggested that companies will need to be open to hiring more people from overseas. Attracting top international talent will require new systems to lower barriers to entry, such as visa pathways and relocation assistance. This is especially important given the added complications that Brexit uncertainties have created for skilled routes into the UK. Re-distributing talent within the UK will also be important, requiring incentives and relocation support to allow multiple regions across the country to develop innovation hubs for advanced therapies. The sector urgently needs government ministers to create policies to promote both national and international talent mobility.
The fundamental building blocks for a successful ATMP industry are in place, but the UK needs to continue to build momentum to maintain a leadership position on the international stage. Attracting and then retaining talent will be key. Companies will need to build cultures and recruitment processes that allow people to keep learning and developing. Building a strong community in which people feel part of the organisation is crucial.
I believe it is important to organise your business not around a place, but around a group of people and purpose. If the UK ATMP sector can create attractive opportunities, then talented people will follow.
If you want to talk more about this or any other related topic, please do contact me at Nick.Stephens@theRSAgroup.com.