Bioproduction bottlenecks increasing due to staff shortages, says report

By Dan Stanton

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStock/zakokor
Image: iStock/zakokor

Related tags Biotechnology

A shortage in expertise is causing bottlenecks in the biomanufacturing space with around half of drugmakers struggling to fill processing positions, an industry report finds.

Based on the data from 227 biopharmaceutical decision-makers and contract manufacturing organisations (CMOs), as well as input from 132 industry suppliers, the 14th​ Annual Report and Survey of Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing was published earlier this year by life sciences market research firm BioPlan Associates.

While there is a general sense of optimism in the industry – expense budgets increasing, capacity levels at a healthy level, greater manufacturing efficiencies etc – there are major concerns surrounding recruitment due to a growing shortage of bioprocessing professionals.

This is due in part to the first generation of bioproduction staff beginning to retire, but Bioplan managing partner Eric Langer also attributed the rapid increase of biomanufacturing facilities coming on line as a factor.

The opening up of the biosimilar sector, for example, has upped the number of players in the bioproduction space who, of course, need trained and experienced staff at their facilities, he told Biopharma-Reporter.

Concurrently, bioprocessing facilities coming online in China and India are also putting pressure on the staffing pool, as will the cell and gene therapy space as it starts to increase its presence at a commercialisation scale.

“Essentially 50% of the manufacturers and the contract manufacturer out there today are having difficulties hiring the right people to actually do the work, obviously this creates bottlenecks,”​ Langer said.

The main area of difficulty in recruitment was in downstream process development staff, the report found. 53.6% of respondents cited this, up from 35.1% last year, but upstream process development was also a problem.

Areas Where Hiring Difficulties Exist, % Responding

Industry training

There are a number of training options in the bioprocessing sector emerging from government, academia and industry, including NIBRT​ in Ireland, the North Carolina State University’s Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center​ (BTEC) and the Biotech Training Facility​ in Leiden, The Netherlands.

However, Langer said bioprocessing training “is one of the slowest processes. Getting the right people, bringing to a manufacturer the expertise needed to do a process at a GMP level.

“You can’t just send somebody through a training programme and expect them to be productive even after they have qualifications for a very specific operation or facility, it may still be six months of on-the-job training… and if that expertise doesn’t exist, training programmes are just a band aid on that problem. “

And while sites like NIBRT offer retraining of staff in the field of biomanufacturing to mirror industry’s shift from small to large molecule, Langer said this would only aid the bigger pharma firms leaving mid and small-size biotechs and CMOs without the talent needed to make biopharmaceuticals.

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