“Unlocking the Future: Navigating the Skills Gap in Cell and Gene Therapies”
Step into the realm of cell and gene therapies, a realm ablaze with the promise of revolutionizing rare and debilitating disease treatments. In the tapestry of 2023, a resounding note reverberated—the European Commission’s seal of approval for Vertex and CRISPR Therapeutics’ exa-cel, a beacon of hope for β-thalassemia and sickle cell disease. Awaiting its turn on the grand stage, this therapy seeks the nod of the FDA in December. The grand theater of evaluation also houses nine other protagonists—cell and gene therapies poised to take the spotlight, embracing the battles against type 1 diabetes, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), metastatic melanoma, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Yet, amidst this crescendo of progress, a sobering report surfaced in March from the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM). Within its pages lay a revelation—a chasm in the sector’s workforce, a vacuum that echoes with the absence of vital technical skills. Development, manufacturing, artificial intelligence, automation, quality control—each chapter etched with deficiencies. A stark warning echoes within ARM’s findings—should this trend endure, the sector’s potential might stand eclipsed.
Natalie Fekete, ARM’s guide through the labyrinth of science and industry affairs, shared, “Cell and gene therapies, as a sector, is a relatively new field in the regenerative medicine field… It is growing and evolving rapidly, which means it needs more people.”
Within ARM’s mosaic of insights, a roadmap emerges—a route paved with education’s transformative power. Universities, the architects of knowledge, could elevate their offerings by weaving in information technology, AI, automation, data mastery, and programming. New certificates and training regimens stand as bridges—strengthening the prowess of the current workforce as the sector’s expansion continues, nurturing it until a fresh influx of skilled individuals graces the arena.
Fabian Gerlinghaus, the visionary co-founder and CEO of cell therapy manufacturer Cellares, sheds light on the perfect alchemy for a well-rounded gene/cell therapy protégé—an appetite for continuous learning, an embrace of evolution, and the poise to thrive amidst dynamic pressures.
Yet, the road to bridging this gap is fraught with challenges—a limited talent pool curtails the sector’s dreams. A clarion call emerges—engage the masses, elevate awareness, and pave the way for nascent talents. Adjacent industries, like the juggernaut of pharmaceuticals, could lend their expertise to train the hands that will sculpt the future of living drugs and genetic therapeutics.
The resounding echo reached the corridors of power—the White House’s attention was seized. A symphony of action was unveiled—an action plan, orchestrating the expansion of biotechnology and biomanufacturing education, spreading its wings equitably across the nation. Mentorship blooms, pathways illuminate, and the sector’s clarion call resonates—a career laden with purpose and potential awaits.
Stephen Majors, ARM’s herald of communication, adds a final brushstroke, a testament to the collective effort—“ARM is, in general, working to better inform the public and policymakers about the science, and the ways the healthcare system needs to adapt to provide access to these treatments… All of these things together can help raise awareness about the sector that should in turn, of course, lead to more interest in the different ways people can participate and make a career out of the sector.” With this resolve, the march towards bridging the gap surges onward, a journey imbued with hope and the promise of transformation.
Regulatory Gaps Also an Issue
“Beyond the Manufacturing Realm, the CGT Skills Chasm Extends to Regulatory Agencies”
The resonance of the CGT skills gap reverberates not just through manufacturing corridors, but echoes within the hallowed halls of regulatory agencies as well. The FDA, an epitome of oversight, faces its own challenge—an insatiable need for qualified individuals to shepherd the multitude of cell and gene therapies, a staggering 900, through the labyrinth of regulatory scrutiny. The dance of review and possible approval demands expert choreographers, and the stage is set for a bottleneck that could impede a product’s journey to the realm of commercialization.
Karin Hoelzer, the maestro of policy and regulatory affairs at the National Organization for Rare Disorders, paints the canvas with candor. The lessons that emerged from the COVID era are etched in stark clarity—interactions between regulatory bodies and drug sponsors pave the path for swift drug delivery. The challenge unfurls—a demand for reviewers, an appeal for approachability.
Hoelzer’s words ring with resonance, an echo of the sector’s needs. “Cell [and] gene therapies are game changers for many in the disease communities,” she imparts. An arsenal against the devastation of debilitating afflictions, these therapies harbor the promise of transformative change. Amidst the fight for lives, the journey toward hope gains momentum.
Congress, a steward of the nation’s trajectory, recognized the urgency. The reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act emerges as a beacon, ushering in additional funds to fortify the FDA’s ranks and birth the Office of Therapeutic Products—an endeavor slated to fill the void with 500 skilled souls. This symphony of rejuvenation, highlighted in the ARM report, is poised to empower regulatory agencies, enhancing their prowess to match the surge in cell and gene therapy approvals, projected to burgeon to 10–20 novel treatments per annum by 2025.
In Hoelzer’s eyes, a truth gleams—cell [and] gene therapies aren’t mere medical novelties; they’re catalysts of transformation. A dance of hope in the face of diseases’ onslaught, a melody of change cascading through the corridors of lives.