Innovation: Now is the right time to get it right for skillsNigel Brooksby discusses the Uk environement for clinical research and development and the innovation in skill development that is needed to support the UK clinical R&D ambitions.
The UK life sciences industry is changing shape. The sector is undergoing significant structural change. Internationally competitive markets prevail, driven by rapid innovation, research and development. Small and medium sized businesses are becoming critically important to the industry as a whole. In the pharma industry, for example, there has been a sustained period of merger and acquisition activity, accompanied by a shift from vertically integrated companies to collaborative ventures with smaller companies and increased outsourcing of research to a growing supply chain in medical biotechnology. Understanding the landscape and dynamics of the industry has become a prerequisite for successful drug development, commercialisation and growth.
The sector needs to create a future that is not subject to the cyclical variation that often follows the expiration of patents. Innovation in the lifesciences industry is vital for meeting growing consumer demand for more effective, affordable healthcare solutions. Innovation is also critical for establishing competitive advantage. This means developing an industry that combines innovative technologies with world class science.
The R&D process in the pharmaceutical industry has reached a tipping point. To remain competitive, organisations will be forced to evolve significantly or embrace new R&D models. Success will mean forsaking existing barriers for a networked, virtual and flexible approach to research. This is a huge challenge – but the opportunities are manifold.
Innovation is the critical success factor for achieving economic value and building a sustainable future. Companies are increasingly focussing on unmet needs, many in niche indications. They expect to foster an open innovation model and partner with academia and/or other companies to develop the best and most economically viable products.
In terms of cost, companies are looking at how to leverage targeting smaller subpopulations of patients and shorter trial programmes along with improving R&D operations and decision-making processes. The R&D organisations will strive for greater empowerment and less hierarchy, through, for example, the creation of centres of excellence. In the future, the role of R&D leaders will shift dramatically towards entrepreneurial drive and competitiveness.
Over the last decade, we’ve learned that mega mergers build commercial presence but do not lead to mega innovation. We need to rediscover our ability to innovate with a higher predictability of R&D success and an earlier proof of concept. We need to find the correct level of funding for biotechnology, to support the SME’s as they will form the supply pipeline in the future. This has not happened quickly enough in the UK or Europe, but progress is underway. Certainly, there is a greater degree of urgency as well as focus and collaboration with external partners in the new and emerging R&D model.
We are moving towards much more niche businesses and personalised medicine. There are obvious benefits to patients, payers and the bioscience industry. Treatments will be matched with patients more effectively through the development of new genetic tests and medicines will be targeted to individuals. Consequently, personalised medicines will have better benefit: risk profiles, which will influence their acceptance by payers, thus increasing the likelihood of successful market access, investment and future growth.
The time is right for us to get it right. The societal and technological drivers ensure that the future will be a challenging one, and a competitive one with all of the major economies investing in bioscience capability and capacity.
Societal factors will drive creative healthcare solutions across the economies of the developed and developing world. But in both instances there is downward pressure on cost. In the latter, this will be due to weight of population and poverty; while in the former, public sector funds are predicted to be squeezed for some time.
Notwithstanding the societal factors, technologically driven change for the industry has been in the pipeline for some time, for example through the merger and acquisition activity in the pharmaceutical industry. This, and the new business paradigm that accompanies it, is the main driver of demand for skills. Together the public sector, academia and industry need to adopt a more holistic approach to developing an industry that is fit for the future.
With the right coordinated approach, the life sciences industry is set to play a crucial part in the strategy for the economic and scientific development of the UK. The life sciences is a fertile market for future growth if we work together to create the right conditions for it to prosper.
Skills contributions to health and sustainable development bring both a social and a technological dimension to skills development. This places high importance on the supply and demand for skills in bioscience and the translation of research and innovation into healthcare solutions.
The Cogent Life Sciences Advisory Council and the Lifesceinces Skills Strategy Board are two new employer led fora run by Cogent and supported by Government and academia. Working with partners, the shared aim is to maintain and grow a skilled and globally competitive bioscience workforce in the UK. The Board will consider issues of key strategic importance and direct the work of the Council. The Council will work through its members to develop initiatives for a highly skilled future workforce.
Life science is one of the key strategic sectors of the future, and has a vital contribution to make as the UK comes through recession. The sector needs to recruit individuals with appropriate knowledge and skills. The all-important capacity for people to be educated in the appropriate disciplines must be maintained, and in the majority of cases, expanded, to meet the unique requirements of the industries that make up this growing part of the economy.
We could see a considerable change in the skills mix in the future with better skilled graduates and non-graduates. To achieve this we need to secure real commitment from both industry and academia to develop new ways of accrediting strategically important disciplines and helping both graduates and non-graduates to become fit- for-purpose. The Cogent Board and Council will be proactive in driving this activity at the highest levels of business and education.
The key skills for the future will be genomics and the modern innovative sciences combined with a rigid backbone of excellence in the key science and technical skills. Core skills include basic mathematical capability, practical skills and the ability to apply scientific and mathematical knowledge. In terms of core disciplines the UK has a substantial skills deficit in biomedical sciences, many of which are at the heart of translational medicine or key to the commercialisation of research.
The development of a new high level apprenticeship is underway. Cogent and partners have recognised the need for a set of agreed industry standards and a recognised certificate of learning to provide an alternative route into the industry for those without a degree but with a scientific interest.
And of course we need to attract and retain the best graduates and post-graduates to maintain the pharmaceutical industry’s lead position on R&D in the UK. We need to create an appropriate climate for them to flourish by giving them the support to develop their skills.
We also need to attract leaders and managers to become engaged and provide the benefits of their experience to the leaders and managers of the future. Such people should be encouraged in both full time positions and as non-executive Directors, mentors, or advisors.
The Board and the Council will bring a fresh approach to developing the partnership between all sectors of the industry, government and academia in workforce development. They will build on the work undertaken by Semta SSC, the ABPI and the recommendations contained within the two Office for Life sciences Blueprint Reports.
Getting the learning right is critical – from Technical Foundation Degrees, Higher Apprentices through to Technical Masters. We need to find the best people and develop them. We need to ensure that there is room to accommodate all levels of ability to enrich the mix of the future workforce.
A coordinated approach is essential to meet the challenges in the sector. We have a mature industry and a world class aspiration, if we can find a new and collaborative way forward, investing in the workforce and developing the skills industry needs, our ambition to become a world leader could be realised.
Nigel Brooksby’s career in the pharmaceuticals industry spans 38 year. He now holds several Life Sciences, Academic and Government positions at senior board level. Nigel Brooksby joined the pharmaceutical industry as a medical sales representative, and has completed his term as President of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, a position he combined with his role as Chairman and Managing Director of Sanofi-aventis UK, Europe’s largest pharmaceutical company.