UK’s pharma & biotech sectors hang in the balance as skills shortage bites

UK invests £250m in AI boost for healthcare
Credit: Panchenko Vladimir

The UK must plug an increasing number of science skills gaps to maintain its world-leading position for medicines and vaccines research and development, says the ABPI.

Figures from ABPI’s latest biennial survey of member pharmaceutical companies show the UK is falling behind in terms of numbers of students studying many STEM subjects vital for discovering the advanced treatments and technologies of the future.

The new evidence comes as the UK seeks to protect its position as a hub for global life-sciences as it leaves the European Union. 

Along with the skills shortages, respondents identified Brexit as the most critical threat to job growth in the UK, in an industry which invests significantly more in R&D than any other sector.

“The Government has set out ambitious targets for increased R&D spend in the UK – including by business – but for this to succeed we must have access to highly skilled people,” said Sheuli Porkess, Deputy Chief Scientific Officer at the ABPI.

“UK science and academia are the envy of the world and the we are vying to be Europe’s premier biotech cluster and second only to the US. 

“But we are seeing a decline in R&D investment.  If we don’t address the skills shortages our status as a world-leading R&D hub we may see even more research – and with it highly skilled jobs – move abroad. This would be bad news for NHS patients and the UK economy.”

Dr Anna Zecharia, Director of Policy at the British Pharmacological Society, said: “We have long been concerned by the skills gap in clinical pharmacology, as identified in the ABPI’s report.

“These skills are crucial for leading research and clinical trials, and for ensuring the best healthcare for patients.

“As a sector, we must work to raise the profile of this high-level and exciting career and make potential candidates aware of the many opportunities available to them.

“At a global level, attracting and nurturing highly skilled candidates will support the UK in consolidating its ambitions is a leader in the life sciences.”