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Sustaining Skills to Supercharge the UK Life Sciences Sector

Medicines Discovery Catapult

5 min read Partner content

The UK will only achieve the goal of becoming a science and technology superpower if there is a strong pipeline of talent to fast track growth.

The life sciences sector is among the most valuable and strategically important to the UK economy. It is critical to the country’s health, wealth, and resilience. On 6 March 2023, the UK government unveiled its new Science and Technology Framework to cement the UK as a science and technology superpower by 2030.

As COVID-19 showed, the life science sector is as essential to national health as it is to national wealth. It will improve patient outcomes and high-tech industry growth in every corner of the UK.

Employment in life sciences in the UK has continuously increased since 2012. According to the Office for Life Sciences, there were 282,000 people employed in the UK life sciences sector in 2021 – a 4% increase on 2020.

Global competition and the application of new disciplines, such as AI and complex personalised medicines, means that the sector’s continued growth will depend upon a multidisciplined pipeline of bright minds already in the industry and attracting new talent with specialist skills. This is not the responsibility of one group. It is for us all. Collaboration across the sector is vital to maintain and exceed the UK’s ambition to be a leading force in applied, innovative life science.

That is where Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) and its fellow life science organisations, Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and Centre for Process Innovation, play a pivotal role.

MDC is an independent, not-for-profit national innovation centre based at one of the UK’s largest life science campuses at Alderley Park in Cheshire. MDC is reshaping UK drug discovery for patient benefit. It does so by transforming great UK science into better treatments through partnerships, deploying its industry-class lab skills, national disease-specific consortia and advanced pre-market technologies to help UK biotechs be more productive in their R&D.

MDC is at the life science industry's epicentre and works in close collaboration with the sector. It is ideally placed to identify key areas where drug innovators need advanced skills to help enable the development of game-changing medical breakthroughs to benefit patients. These skills, such as advanced predictive informatics technologies and advanced imaging, are signalled to those who can provide and deliver them: universities, UKRI, industry trade bodies and regional company accelerators.

MDC also directly nurtures future experts through a range of initiatives. These include the development of 'investible’ scientific management teams and educating young people, who are the next generation of drug discovery innovators.

MDC hosts an annual cohort of PhD interns from local universities as part of a training, talent, and skills agenda. The internship programme provides the next generation of innovative scientists with key training and exposure to industrial R&D. It also increases MDC's capacity to carry out novel science in areas of benefit to the UK’s drug discovery industry.

For example, Dr Michael Eyres joined MDC in 2020 as a PhD intern to establish and validate an innovative and novel spatial biomarkers platform. Now a Senior Scientist in Spatial Biomarkers, Michael has brought transformational biomarker analysis capabilities to MDC and its partners. This enables the deep exploration of biology to better understand drugs and get medicines to patients faster.

A 2022 survey by the British Science Association, which runs the annual British Science Week celebration of STEM subjects, found that only 34% of 14-18 year-olds in the UK think science is relevant to their life.

In response to statistics of this nature, MDC has partnered with the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) Pledge Partnership for a school engagement programme to inspire the North West's future scientists to consider a career in the sector. Scientists from MDC reached hundreds of pupils with interactive lessons to show how medicines are made and how impactful a career in science can be.

MDC has also produced a virtual school video lesson to mark British Science Week 2023 (10-19 March). The video will be distributed across the regional school network as part of the British Science Week curriculum. The virtual lesson focuses on how medicines are made, the need for new medicines, and why there is a need for more people to enter the industry. 

MDC has employed and trained over 1,300 individuals since 2016. It has previously partnered with Levenshulme High School, a Manchester-based all-girls school, to host events to break down societal misconceptions surrounding STEM careers and to drive greater gender representation.

Talking about these initiatives, Professor Chris Molloy, CEO of Medicines Discovery Catapult, said: “Nurturing and inspiring the next generation of scientists is joyful and purposeful. They will be crucial in growing our sector and improving our healthcare, so encouraging agile and multidisciplined scientists into the industry has never been more important.

“MDC’s purpose is to transform great UK science into better treatments through partnerships – that means people and their skills. Our daily interactions with a wide range of R&D innovators allow us to see gaps and foster skills development from the roots up.

“We are here to deploy the skills of our expert teams in the service of our R&D partners and to contribute to their success. We are also delighted to see the impact of our alumni spreading widely across the UK’s biotech community. We will continue to build upon the initiatives we, and our colleagues across the UK, have established to ensure a steady pipeline of multidisciplined, investible talent to sustain our sector’s growth long into the future.”

For more information, please visit md.catapult.org.uk.

About Medicines Discovery Catapult

Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) is an independent, not-for-profit organisation and part of the Catapult Network established by Innovate UK.

MDC's vision is to reshape drug discovery for patient benefit by transforming great UK science into better treatments through partnership.

MDC supports drug discovery innovators by making world-class expertise, facilities, complex technologies and advanced analytics accessible. We connect the life sciences ecosystem, driving a global focus on barriers to innovation in areas of unmet patient and technological need.

By industrialising new technologies to drive the adoption of new scientific tools and techniques, MDC enables successful medicines discovery.

More information: md.catapult.org.uk.

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