Canadian Careers in Cell and Gene
Exploring the gaps and opportunities in Canada’s cell and gene workforce with CCRM and OmniaBio’s Sarah Lepage
Many industry stakeholders have pointed to a talent shortage in drug development and manufacturing, particularly when it comes to cell and gene therapies. In 2019, a report from the UK’s Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult showed that there were clear concerns in recruiting talent – a problem which persists to this day. In every country hoping to grow its cell and gene sector, recruiting skilled talent is a prerequisite.
The Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) was founded to develop and commercialize regenerative medicine technologies, including cell and gene therapies. In 2022, CCRM launched a subsidiary called OmniaBio – a CDMO offering manufacturing expertise to Canadian and international cell and gene companies.
Here, Sarah Lepage, Manager CGT Training Programs for CCRM and OmniaBio, offers insight into talent shortages and career opportunities in Canada.
When it comes to cell and gene, what are the biggest gaps in skills and knowledge?
There is a prevailing sentiment across the cell and gene therapy industry that there is a major talent gap in manufacturing. As more and more therapies make their way into late phase and commercial production, workforce development and training risk being the biggest bottlenecks to getting therapies to patients.
At CCRM and OmniaBio, we have a more optimistic view. Canada has a highly educated workforce so talent is everywhere. We are developing a sustainable recruitment and training program to meet the industry’s needs. To be considered highly skilled in this industry, individuals must be proficient in a variety of complex, hands-on processes, while having extensive knowledge of GMP for biomanufacturing. They must be comfortable working in a dynamic regulatory landscape and be fully aware of the quality control attributes of their products.
OmniaBio is preparing to ramp up its workforce and the training program will include theoretical and practical training components, including training in aseptic techniques, fundamentals of GMP, and platform-specific unit operations for manufacturing cell and gene therapies.
Is brain drain to the US a problem in Canada?
Brain drain is a particular concern for more senior roles. Canada has fantastic post-secondary institutions and pre-clinical research programs in cell and gene therapy, and we are making strides in clinical trials thanks to funding organizations, such as the Stem Cell Network.
However, the job market for talented leaders in this field is relatively small compared with the US. Early-stage companies often lack the capital to fund these roles, and biomanufacturing facilities have not been well-supported in Canada until recently.
Part of CCRM’s goal is to build and invest in Canadian-made regenerative medicine-based technologies and cell and gene therapies, and to launch companies that will stay in Canada. We’ve worked hard to set up domestic manufacturing and we’ve partnered with CellCAN to launch the Canadian Advanced Therapies Training Institute (CATTI) to build a trained GMP manufacturing workforce.
How attractive do you think the cell and gene industry is to young talent?
The industry is very attractive to young talent, gauging by the interest shown by high school and post-secondary students who have been exposed to the field. However, they are still mostly unaware of the roles and career opportunities available in the sector. We need to do a better job of connecting with high schools, colleges and universities to showcase jobs in the industry. Organizations like Next Generation Manufacturing Canada are educating young people about exciting careers that exist in advanced manufacturing, but we still have more to do.
CATTI and CCRM are also actively involved in curriculum building and content delivery at post-secondary institutions, providing students with applied knowledge of industry and job prospects for after graduation. In addition, CCRM’s private foundation recently announced a three-year partnership with Visions of Science to develop programming in regenerative medicine for youth.
When recruiting young talent for internships or other programs, what do you look for in candidates?
There are usually more applicants than roles available so the process is competitive. Generally, we look for students who are in a program that is relevant to our work, as well as good communication skills, eagerness, and a willingness to learn.
What would you say to young people to encourage them to consider a career in cell and gene?
The community’s goal is to move away from treatment of symptoms and move towards creating regenerative, curative therapies to improve lifespan and healthspan. Cell and gene therapy has the potential to treat so many different conditions and diseases, such as cancer, neurodegenerative, heart disease, autoimmune, and more.
This is an exciting field developing the future of medicine. If you want a job where you can have an impact and feel proud of how you are benefiting society, this is a great field to join!
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