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UK ‘lacks the skills’ for future drug development, ABPI warns

Published on 11/11/15 at 10:31am
The ABPI says the UK lacks the skills to research and develop the medicines of the future

A shortage of skilled professionals threatens to undermine research and development of new medicines in the UK and prevent growth and investment, the ABPI is warning.   

It echoes warnings in a report published last month by the Office for Life Sciences, which found that the jobs crisis in the industry is undermining progress in genomics research and drug development. The ‘commercial skills gap’ identified by the OLS means that in the UK, the life science sector has close to 24,000 fewer skilled workers, particularly in genomics and bioinformatics, than would be expected in a like-for-like comparison with the US.

Pharmafocus reports on the pharma jobs crisis

The ABPI report, based on research from 93 industry leaders from 59 organisations, finds that pharma 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.”

Like the OLS, nine out of ten executives cited their concerns about the 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.”

The report also highlights long-standing issues in the number and quality of applicants in areas with professional skills such as translational medicine, clinical pharmacology and veterinary and toxicological pathology. 

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. Precious research by the OLS and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has found that that pharma industry contributes more than £32 billion to the UK economy.

The ABPI report concludes that: “The increasing number of skills gaps need to be urgently addressed if the UK is to continue to deliver innovative medicines to patients.”

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman says: “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.”

Malcolm Skingle, chair of the ABPI academic liaison expert network, says: “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 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.”

Lilian Anekwe

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