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A Kingdom United on Advanced Medicine

Adding some fragrance to an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday morning in November 2021, the UK Cell and Gene Catapult stopped to smell the roses in an online event in which CEO Matthew Durdy and CMO Stephen Ward recounted and relayed a collage of statements and statistics on a year’s growth in the UK’s advanced therapy medicinal product (ATMP) sector. The virtual gathering was timed to coincide with the organization’s 2021 Annual Review, GMP Manufacturing Report, and Skills Demand Survey Report, from which Durdy and Ward drew their numbers.

The UK is currently the second largest national cell and gene cluster in the world. Can the UK maintain its lead over its “rivals for silver” in Western Europe and East Asia? The omens of the Catapult bode well...

The UK Cell and Gene Catapult is just one node in an entire “Catapult Network” of independent bodies working to nurture and accelerate key industry sectors, operating in collaboration with Innovate UK, a branch of the UK Research and Innovation agency. (The agency is in turn funded by the British government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – a bureau that will no doubt be pleased with the progress the Durdy and Ward were able to report.)

First off, the money looks good: investment in UK ATMPs has more than doubled in the last two years, rising from £1.6 billion in 2019 to £2.4 billion in 2020, and then to £3.8 billion in 2021.

At the far end of the pipeline something even more interesting is happening: more therapies are reaching patients. Two reimbursed therapies did so in 2019, then seven in 2020, and nine in 2021. The trend is backed by a growth in potential treatments reaching phase III trials: 14 in 2019, 28 in 2020, and 38 in 2021.

So what’s the catch? In two words: staff and skills.

Durdy and Ward’s stats will also likely please UK residents looking for something  – anything – to feel patriotic about. According to their report, the UK is currently the second largest national cell and gene cluster in the world. Can the UK maintain its lead over its “rivals for silver” in Western Europe and East Asia? The omens of the Catapult bode well: 29 percent of all European ATMP companies currently operate in the UK, 12 percent of all ATMP clinical trials in the world are represented in the UK, and 2021 has seen a 20 percent rise in the UK’s total number of clinical trials.

So what’s the catch? In two words: staff and skills. Over the next five years, the UK’s ATMP headcount is projected to rise from just under 7,000 to just over 15,000. Within that prophesied growth, 75 percent of hires are expected to work in bioprocessing roles. In fact, an overwhelming 98 percent of respondents to a survey sent out by the Catapult said that they anticipated staff and skills to be a major challenge to their business in the years ahead. Initiatives seeking to mitigate the problem are already in place. In particular, the Catapult’s review put the spotlight on the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC) and the Advanced Therapies Skills Training Network (ATSTN).

Durdy and Ward also factored the question of geography, taking time to make several mentions of considerable growth in Scotland, and also noting the further consolidation of the UK ATMPs’ largest hub: the English Southeast. A map included in the report illustrates regional distribution nicely, showing clear hubs around the southern cities of London and Oxford, England’s Northwest, and Scotland’s Central Belt. A similar map in Durd and Ward’s presentation that depicted the location of Catapult centers and partners largely matched this spread, but also showed presences in other less developed areas. Cornwall, North Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland’s other population centers remain firmly out in the cold – perhaps indicating a need for investment in the “celtic” peripheries of the British Isles.

A catapult with a man in a business suit stood beside it. The background is a faded Union Jack.
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About the Author
Angus Stewart

Angus is Associate Editor of The Medicine Maker

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