ABPI highlights skills shortages in the biopharma industry

UK lacks good quality candidates for high-skilled roles, which could drive pharma companies to seek skills abroad, warns a new report

The UK life sciences industry is facing a major skills shortage which threatens to undermine the development of new medicines and prevent growth and investment in the sector, finds a new report by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

The report, Bridging the skills gap in the biopharmaceutical industry, has found that pharmaceutical companies are struggling to recruit for roles requiring a high level of skill in the UK due to low numbers of good quality candidates.

The ABPI warns that this could lead to firms seeking expertise and skills abroad and risking the UK’s position as a global leader of research and development.

Launched ahead of this year’s ABPI annual R&D conference, which takes place today (11 November), the report looks at the skills needed now and in the near future for the biopharmaceutical industry to thrive in the UK.

It is essential that the sector continues to have access to a highly skilled R&D, manufacturing and technical workforce

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 personalised medicines.

Nine out of ten respondents said they were concerned about the quality and quantity of candidates for vacancies in areas such as bioinformatics, health informatics, statistics and data mining, where innovation and technology is advancing so quickly that training programmes struggle to keep up.

The same number of respondents also cited poor communications and team-working skills in new recruits as particular areas 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. 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.

Life Sciences Minister, George Freeman MP, said in the foreword to the report: '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 to tackle 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 concerned by the Government reneging on its decision to support the Science Industry Partnership (SIP), which has already made a significant impact on the skills shortage facing the sector.

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 clear evidence of the complexities of the challenge ahead.

'We absolutely need to work with Government and health and education policymakers 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.'