UK invests in cell and gene therapy workforce to prepare for commercial products

By Nick Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/SergeyNivens)
(Image: Getty/SergeyNivens)
The UK is investing £3m ($4m) to build a workforce capable of delivering cell and gene therapies to patients at commercial scales.

Half the money will support the development of apprenticeships in collaboration with the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership​, a joint venture between the industry and government. The UK’s network of Advanced Therapies Treatment Centres (ATTCs) will use the other half to build up its capabilities.

Innovate UK, a nongovernmental public funding body, is making the money available to equip the UK to handle commercial cell and gene therapies. The UK has already made major commitments to the development of such advanced medicines but commercial products present a fresh challenge.

One of the reasons cell and gene therapy has reached its current stage is that we do have a collective in-depth knowledge​,” Keith Thompson, CEO of the Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) Catapult, told this publication. “For expansion, however, we need hundreds of new manufacturing positions in the sector at the technical apprenticeship level and manufacturing level​.”

With Gilead Sciences and Novartis closing in on European approvals of CAR-T therapies and other autologous cell therapies coming down the pipeline, the UK will need to get a handle on how to meet these challenges in the years to come.

If uptake of cell and gene therapies is to take off, healthcare systems and industry partners will need a workforce capable of managing the complex series of events involved in their production, supply, and administration.

In the case of CAR-Ts and other autologous cell therapies, healthcare professionals are the first and last step in the process, taking samples from patients and later administering the modified cells into them.

The ATTCs and CGT Catapult are central to the UK’s effort to support this supply chain but their effectiveness is tied to the availability of skilled staff.

Skills strategy

Innovate UK is putting up the money in response to the UK Life Sciences Industrial Strategy​. The document identified a need for a strong skills strategy to ensure the UK has access to the talent to execute its vision for the sector.

The nascent nature of the cell and gene therapy sector means its skills requirements are likely to rise in the years to come. With the UK aiming to emerge as a leader in the space, it is investing in efforts to meet these emerging requirements. That will present opportunities to people from a variety of backgrounds.

Typically, the workforce in this space is split between PhD and graduate level and we expect that ratio to change towards 25% PhD, 55% graduate and 20% non-graduate levels,” ​said Thompson. “Scientists come from varied backgrounds including molecular biology and biochemistry​.”

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