UK lacks the skills to research and develop the medicines of the future
UK lacks the skills to research and develop the medicines of the future
The UK life sciences industry is facing a major skills shortage which threatens to undermine the research and development of new medicines in the UK and prevent growth and investment in this vital sector.
11 Nov 2015 Posted in
A new report from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has found that pharmaceutical companies are struggling to recruit for high skilled roles in the UK due to low numbers of good quality candidates. The ABPI warns that this could lead to firms increasingly seeking expertise and skills abroad risking the UK’s position as a global leader of research and development.
Based on research from 93 industry leaders from 59 organisations the report reveals that the most concerning skills gaps are in the interdisciplinary areas involving mathematics and biology which are essential for the development of the personalised medicines of the future.
Nine out of ten respondents cited concern about quality and quantity of candidates for vacancies in areas including bioinformatics, health informatics, statistics and data mining, where innovation and technology is advancing so quickly that training programs struggle to keep up.
Nine out of ten respondents also cited poor communications and team-working skills in new recruits, as a particular area of concern.
The report also highlights long-standing issues in the number and quality of applicants in areas such as translational medicine, clinical pharmacology and veterinary and toxicological pathology, which were highlighted in the ABPI’s previous skills report of 2008. However, while action has been taken to address these issues, a lack of ongoing funding or short-term initiatives coming to an end means these skills gaps are now re-emerging as areas of concern.
The increasing number of skills gaps need to be urgently addressed if the UK is to continue to deliver innovative medicines to patients, say the authors. The UK currently has one of the strongest and most productive life sciences industries in the world, generating turnover of over £56 billion per annum. The pharmaceuticals sector employs over 70,000 people in the UK; the high productivity of each of these highly skilled people results in more than £149,000 being generated for the UK economy.
Life Sciences Minister, George Freeman MP, who wrote the foreword for the report, said: “It is essential that the sector continues to have access to a highly skilled R&D, manufacturing and technical workforce in order to achieve its potential, maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of life sciences and help to meet the challenge of addressing the productivity gap. This ABPI report will provide invaluable evidence for industry and policymakers to develop and deliver the right skills initiatives to ensure that the sector continues to thrive in the future.”
The report authors say a multi-sector approach, as well as co-investment from the industry and Government, is required in order to tackle what is a complex set of issues. This includes a focus on the education pathway, from the school curriculum to post-graduate studies and more high-quality apprenticeships.
Given the findings of the report, the ABPI is very concerned with the decision by Government to renege on its decision to support the Science Industry Partnership (SIP), which has already made a significant impact on the skills shortage facing the sector, and which is well-placed to lead on tackling some of the issues raised in this report.
Malcolm Skingle, Chair of the ABPI Academic Liaison Expert Network, said: “Securing the appropriate skills and roles across manufacturing, clinical and research and development within life sciences has been a significantly growing concern for our sector in the UK and this report provides the clear evidence of the complexities of the challenge ahead. We absolutely need to work with Government and health and education policy makers to understand how best to address these gaps and challenges, in order to secure the UK’s position in life sciences and ensure it remains able to compete globally for talent and investment. Only through collaboration and co-investment between all relevant organisations can we ensure that the UK sustains and grows a highly skilled workforce for our sector in the future.”
Sarah Jones, ABPI’s Head of Education and Exams and report author, said: “Young people need advice and guidance to understand the opportunities that exist in the industry and to be appropriately prepared, and this is currently lacking. There needs to be a consistent UK wide approach to help school and universities to address this and to make sure that students understand the skills required and the training on offer. We also need much greater awareness the role of apprenticeships, as these can often offer the best route into a long-term, highly skilled career.”
Notes to Editors
The ABPI’s 2015 report benchmarks its results on the previous report in 2008.
1. The Science Industry Partnership (SIP) Board should review the evidence and consider action that could be taken through the SIP to address the skills concerns identified. The SIP is a consortium of around 100 leading science sector employers
2. In areas where evidence suggests that high level and professional skills are concerns across both industry and academia, action will be sought through the Research Councils and appropriate Professional Bodies.
3. The pipeline for development of appropriate mathematical skills must be considered. This extends from opportunities for students to study maths alongside science subjects post-16, through universities putting increased emphasis on maths in bioscience courses, to raising awareness and uptake by UK and EU graduates of Masters and PhD level training in statistics, data mining, mathematical modelling and related disciplines.
4. ABPI Expert Network Groups, and the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership (MMIP) Skills group (for manufacturing concerns), should monitor the critical disciplines in their area and raise concerns when it is becoming more difficult to recruit people with the skills required or when new needs are identified.
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About the ABPI
The ABPI represents innovative research-based biopharmaceutical companies, large, medium and small, leading an exciting new era of biosciences in the UK.
Our industry, a major contributor to the economy of the UK, brings life-saving and life-enhancing medicines to patients. Our members supply 90 per cent of all medicines used by the NHS, and are researching and developing over two-thirds of the current medicines pipeline, ensuring that the UK remains at the forefront of helping patients prevent and overcome diseases.
The ABPI is recognised by government as the industry body negotiating on behalf of the branded pharmaceutical industry, for statutory consultation requirements including the pricing scheme for medicines in the UK.