Growing the UK's bio culture

October 1, 2007
Dr Tony Bradshaw
Pharmaceutical Technology Europe
Volume 19, Issue 10

The UK, with its high quality educational capabilities in bioscience, has an opportunity to become the global hub of bioscience training, but must act quickly to secure this position.

The bioscience industry faces a challenge: ensuring that there are enough suitably trained candidates — at all levels — to meet demand. There are a number of initiatives underway in the UK to address this challenge and to make the UK a global hub for bioscience training. Widely recognized as a valuable part of the growing knowledge economy in Europe, the bioscience industry relies on a steady supply of resources to function and grow. The most valuable resource being its skilled and educated workforce.

Dr Tony Bradshaw

The bioscience industry depends on qualified personnel in a wide variety of fields, who are often required to have multidisciplinary skills. Therefore, a constant supply of young people studying the physical and biological sciences is critical. The UK, with its high quality educational capabilities in bioscience, has an opportunity to become the global hub of bioscience training, but must act quickly to secure this position. British universities are not producing enough graduates or postgraduates in bioscience of a high enough calibre to meet the industry's needs.

Mechanisms are required to attract the top talent to study numerate biological and physical science disciplines, and ensure this talent puts science and engineering — in both academia and industry — at the top of their career aspirations.

Having surveyed a number of bioprocessing companies, bioProcessUK, the UK Technology Strategy Board-funded (TSB) Knowledge Transfer Network in biopharmaceutical bioprocessing, has identified a skills shortage, particularly in PhD student capacity. Considering the anticipated growth in the sector, and the recruitment issues faced by industry and academia, bioProcessUK believes it will be necessary to double the current PhD output. To achieve this, it will also be necessary to ensure enough undergraduate and MSc students, and that the academic infrastructure is able to deal with this increase.

Action

To address the skills challenge for bioprocessing in the UK, bioProcessUK is contributing to a number of initiatives:

  • It has worked with the TSB to develop the calls for proposals and to identify projects to be funded under the Collaborative R&D Programme, which aims to stimulate innovation in the UK economy through higher levels of R&D and knowledge transfer.

  • Alongside the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences research Council, bioProcessUK is managing the Bioprocessing Research Industry Club, which was established to address the need for new tools and techniques to accelerate the development of biopharmaceuticals by funding university research in these areas. Sixteen private sector organizations have contributed more than £1 million (€1.5 million) to the approximately £13 million (€19.1 million) fund, which will be distributed during 3 years.

  • The UK has only one university with a strong bioprocessing capability. bioProcessUK is examining six other universities that are interested in building bioprocess capabilities for a series of industry-supported centres of excellence in bioprocessing.

  • Many graduate and postgraduate students in the UK are unaware of the career options available to them in bioprocessing. Therefore, the company has run a number of workshops where students learn more about the opportunities available.

  • bioProcessUK is also supporting young people in industry by sponsoring them as part of the BioIndustry Association (BIA) mentoring programme, with board level mentors providing support to young employees.

In addition to producing a stream of home-grown graduates, the UK should be a world leader and hub of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training by also recruiting and retaining international scientists with STEM skills. To ensure that the skills shortage is addressed, it may be necessary to provide work permits to those currently ineligible to work in the UK if they have been trained at a UK Higher Education Institute. The BIA is supporting the introduction of such a scheme. Another option is for the government to provide incentives, similar to those provided to teachers, to ensure that those trained in STEM skills pursue a career in science rather than heading to the City and finance. Generating a healthy supply of skilled scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians is crucial to the UK's future prosperity. Increasing the flow of high-quality STEM skills is vital to R&D, to driving innovation, to improving productivity performance and to delivering growth in the global knowledge economy.

Dr Tony Bradshaw is director of bioProcessUK (UK).