As someone who has spent their entire career working in the life sciences sector, it’s a constant source of delight to find that science is on the front page, everybody in the country can name two or three major bioscience companies and talk with a semblance of knowledge about various vaccines, their efficacy and side-effects.
While the current focus has been on the discovery and development of new vaccines, cell and gene therapies are a transformative new category of medicines whose full potential is only just beginning to emerge.
Traditional ‘drugs’ are standard, small-molecule treatments which are produced in a standardised fashion, and most are relatively short-lived within the body.
Cell and gene therapies are different. They involve extracting cells, protein or genetic material (DNA) from the patient (or a donor), and altering them to provide a highly personalised therapy, which is re-injected into the patient. Cell and gene therapies may offer longer-lasting effects than traditional medicines. They have the potential to address complex diseases, such as cancers, motor neurone disease, sickle cell anaemia and many other rare disorders for which there are currently no effective treatments.
For those involved in biomanufacturing that presents a challenge. These are very labour intensive processes so how we do we ensure that our industry can meet these demands and how do we keep Scotland at the forefront of this rapidly emerging market?
Talent, as always, is integral to this growth and there is a real challenge to bridge the skills gap. There is a nationwide collaborative effort in the UK to make sure we remain world leaders in the sector. During the pandemic, the Advanced Therapies Skills Training Network (ATSTN), was born. Backed by £4.7 million in funding from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Innovate (IUK), and coordinated by the Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult this national initiative aims to drive growth across the advanced therapies and vaccine manufacturing industry, through offering access to training facilities and an online training platform.
The ATSTN has, to date, funded three National Centres for Advanced Therapies Training. In Scotland a consortia of Scottish Universities Life Sciences Association (SULSA), RoslinCT, Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and Scottish Enterprise produced a successful bid and was officially launched earlier this year and has successfully run courses through RoslinCT, Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre, Ayrshire College (who have partnered with Merck) and in the near future at Napier University.
With unprecedented large growth across a number of businesses in Scotland the challenge is to continually keep the supply of talent flowing. Digital platforms will be integral to this as we move forward. The Cell & Gene Therapy Catapults online training platform gives access to a range of high quality academic and industry tutorials and resources which students and employees can use to further their knowledge and careers.
When it comes to skills nothing beats hands on training and with the access to trainers and training facilities always at a premium, virtual reality (VR) training modules will form a vital component. These modules allow users to become more familiar with work surroundings and processes, allowing them to perform technical roles away from the lab. They will help to engage students with the advanced therapies industry, increase accessibility and cut down on-site training allowing candidates to become more productive more quickly.
In Scotland we want be at the forefront of these innovative training techniques, the ATSTN ensures that our workforce will be adaptable and responsive now and in the future.
Read here for more information about advanced therapies and vaccines in Scotland.
Nathan Barnett, the Project Coordinator of the Advanced Therapies Skills & Training Network in
Scotland talks about the work being done to establish Scotland’s training provision for vaccine
manufacturing, advanced therapies and bioprocessing.