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New PPP Report: plugging the cell and gene therapy skills gap in the UK

Harnessing potential of cell and gene therapy sector is critical to enabling government ambitions of turning the UK into a science and tech superpower, a new report from PPP finds.

  • There are barriers to realising the goverment’s life science superpower ambition, including significant skills shortages across STEM fields, and a lack of awareness or inability to access training courses and career pathways in CGT.
  • Public Policy Projects publishes new report, calling for closer collaboration between government, academia, and industry to improve awareness and visibility of CGT career pathways and to harness the transformational potential of the sector.
  • The report comes as Labour MP Liz Twist called for “a cell and gene therapy sector equipped for the timely development and delivery of new treatments” in the House of Commons yesterday.

A new report from Public Policy Projects (PPP) has called for urgent cross-sector collaboration to address skills shortages in the UK’s cell and gene therapy (CGT) sector. CGT uses modified cells to attack genetic conditions and can revolutionise our approach to treating cancer, autoimmune and rare diseases.

The UK CGT industry is undergoing rapid growth and is expected to play a key role in facilitating the government’s strategy for the UK to become a science and tech superpower by 2030. However, PPP, in partnership with LifeArc, today identify several factors responsible for holding the industry back. These include a lack of resource to train the necessary workforce, broader shortages in STEM positions and unpredictable government support.

The report, The future of cell and gene therapies in the UK, identifies a series of practical and actionable steps to address the UK CGT skills shortages. The report’s findings are based on a series of roundtables chaired by Dr Anji Miller, Lead for Gene Therapy Innovation Hubs at LifeArc, and attended by CGT leaders and experts from across the UK.

The report calls for greater collaboration across government, academia, and industry to increase the exposure of CGT for students at all levels. Currently, there are few initiatives in schools which are dedicated to generating enthusiasm and awareness of the CGT industry. At university level, the UK has maintained solid student engagement with STEM fields, but it remains challenging to promote CGT as a highly specialised and still relatively new bioscience. This suggests an opportunity for all relevant stakeholders to engage, inspire and raise awareness of CGT among students.

The report is published on the same as a key House of Commons debate on the future of the sector, where Labour MP Liz Twist called for “a strategy that won’t only plan for the expansion of the sector but does so in a manner that puts patient need and patient care at the heart of its goals, and a detailed strategy that supports the expansion of the cell and gene therapy sector to allow patients equitable access to treatment that will transform their lives.”

To help plug the current skills gap, the report suggests that government investment in established training and development programmes, such as the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC), is necessary. In addition, the industry could look to other sectors, such as those in decline like oil and gas, for workers with core competences who can be upskilled.

Private training academies should also coordinate with government and academia to upskill workers and more collectively strengthen the CGT skills base. Forming these new sector relationships, alongside sustained investment, is essential to address the skills gap and ensure the long-term success of the industry.

With the CGT sector taking hold as one of the fastest growing areas in life sciences, combined with the need to turn to innovation to address NHS system pressures and improve patient outcomes, the reasons to prioritise CGT investment could not be clearer. Further, both main political parties have pledged to harness life science innovation as a key pillar of economic growth and a central means to alleviating health and care system pressure. As such, there is an increasingly strong case for securing the future of the UK CGT sector and facilitating its continued growth by enhancing visibility of CGT career pathways.

Commenting on the report, Dr Anji Miller Lead for Gene Therapy Innovation Hubs at LifeArc, said:

“The primary goal of this report is to drive cross sector collaboration and inspire the necessary political support for the UK to fully leverage the potential of the CGT sector. With the right measures in place, this burgeoning field can significantly contribute to both the health and wealth of our nation. By fostering innovation, attracting investment, and nurturing the development of vital skills, we can position the UK as a global leader in this transformative area of medicine.

It is my hope that policymakers, funding bodies, and other key stakeholders will embrace these recommendations, recognising the importance of sustained and strategic investment in building a skilled workforce and supporting the growth of the sector.”

PPP Chair, Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell, said:

“We regard [Cell and Gene therapy] as a key element of the ambition to develop in the UK a life sciences hub, and the reputation and reality of the UK as a place where genuinely innovative science can be developed and applied for the benefit of both UK and global citizens.”

“There needs to be a general understanding in the population at large, a particular understanding in the world of education, and an understanding among bright students working out what they want to do with their lives about the opportunities that are in this still relatively discreet sector of the UK economy.”

Recommendations from the report include:

Recommendations for government: 

1. Given the estimated skills demand and shortage, alongside the forecasted growth of the sector, there is a clear role for government to create a UK-wide strategy and plan to expand, develop and train an industry-ready CGT workforce.

2. To equip candidates with the relevant industrial skills via industrial placements and internships, the government should work with academia and industry to create a national strategy for industrial placements and internships.

3. The government should look to develop the national primary school curriculum to include key STEM learning initiatives, broadening scope for involvement in specialist fields such as CGT by increasing the number of practical opportunities available.

4. Government should be encouraged to allocate more ringfenced funding to expand the ATAC and the ATSTN on a long-term basis to provide long-term stability and predictability of workforce numbers.

Recommendations for the life sciences industry: 

5. The life sciences sector needs to improve the visibility and career pathways of roles in STEM, including CGT research, development and manufacturing to prospective students and graduates.

6. Industry, government bodies, relevant charities and academic bodies should work together to develop clear, transparent and standardised roles and career pathways, qualifications, and training programmes to address the future CGT talent pipeline required to meet the needs of the sector.

7. All stakeholders should explore opportunities to work together to create targeted training programmes to attract, recruit and reskill talented workers from allied sectors with relevant expertise.

Recommendations for the CGT sector: 

8. The CGT industry should look at opportunities for funding and support from existing skills programmes such as the Local Skills Improvement Plan and the Strategic Development Fund.

9. The CGT ecosystem should work with, educate and engage regional and local government and academic leaders such as local authorities, council members, university personnel and local skills officials on the benefits of participating in building a sustainable regional CGT skills pipeline.

10. The CGT sector must work closely with local authorities and educational institutions to both identify the roles required in specific area and develop more locally responsive recruitment and training opportunities.

The full report can be accessed here.

Key information

LifeArc funded the roundtables series and have supported the production of this report. The programme of work is being run in partnership with Public Policy Projects, who have retained full editorial control of the report.

About Public Policy Projects:

PPP is an organisation operating at the heart of health and life sciences policy delivery. We bring together senior leaders and practitioners in the public and private health and life sciences sectors to discuss and identify realistic solutions to the most pressing issues relating to the delivery of healthcare services.

Our independent research, events, and written reports are the result of effective collaboration between the public and private sectors.

We help businesses to grow their profile within the NHS and wider public sector. In turn, we support public sector leaders and organisations with practical recommendations on implementing policy to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for local populations.

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