UK Cell & Gene Therapy Market

10 minutes

The meteoric rise of Cell and Gene therapies in the last 10-15 years is the single biggest ...

By George Seward

Senior Associate

The meteoric rise of Cell and Gene therapies in the last 10-15 years is the single biggest advancement in the pharmaceutical industry in recent history. The immense complexities of these therapeutics products has resulted in a hugely increased demand for highly specialised candidates to execute these technical processes across Process Development, MSAT and CMC.

This complexity is mirrored when considering the recruitment of these individuals, and as this niche of the pharmaceutical market adapts and grow, the corresponding recruitment industry must do the same.

There are 2 major factors impacting the recruitment industry in this sector that I will expand on in this article, VC funding, and skills shortage.

The traditional Big Pharma model of acquiring the IP for new therapeutic products is evolving into the Venture Capital backed biotech attempting to commercialise or get significantly into clinical development before considering selling, and thus allowing the VC to realise their return on initial investment. Whilst I am not in a position to comment on the reason for this, I can speculate that the risk/reward ratio is simply to significant for a Big Pharma organisation to take on such a project in its infancy, and can significantly reduce the potential of failure by acquiring close to, or post launch – as we have recently seen in the acquisition of GammaDelta Tx by Takeda, and Gyroscope Tx by Novartis to name a couple. 

2021 saw a massive increase in the availability Venture Capital funding, resulting in several new startups and reinvestment in existing businesses. This increase growth inevitably resulted in increased demand for candidates, throwing up several complications and considerations when conducting both Retained and Talent Solutions projects.

Firstly, Biotech organisations often require candidates with highly specialist skillsets, and significant experience in a role very similar to the one they are looking to hire, understandably so, as there are investors to please, timelines to meet and candidates need to be able to hit the ground running. This is nothing new when taking a brief, however, a significant portion of the suitable candidates will work at competitors, occasionally funded by the same VC, for example Syncona are funding 4 Cell therapy companies in London alone!

Whilst I am no investor, I can imagine paying recruitment fees for company A to take someone for company B and then again, a further fee to replace the lost candidate and this might seem like a waste of money.

With the Cell and Gene therapy industry predicted to grow 13% year on year until at least 2028, it seems this problem is going to get worse before it gets better, and I do not believe cannibalisation of the industry is necessarily a long term solution. 

"Advising clients to consider candidates from related modalities as a solution to their candidate shortages is key to a more complete and robust hiring process"

The Cell and Gene therapy Catapult have launched the “Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community” (ATAC), which is predicted to create 300-400 skilled workers by 2024 in the ATMP space. However, this is a long-term approach and unlikely to impact senior hires for 10-15 years.

As the Antibody and Protein Therapy market has matured and somewhat stabilised, we have seen an increasing willingness from clients in this area to consider candidates from a Sterile manufacturing background, and the same needs to occur in ATMPs before we run out of candidates to support the increasing number of vacancies.

How does a candidate transition from the large molecule space, into cell or gene therapies?

One could argue that the Bioprocessing and Purification methodologies for an Antibody or a Therapeutic Protein are closely aligned to that of Viral Vectors, and this is the area that we have seen the most transition occur. However, there appears to be significantly less transition in the Cell therapy space, and according to the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine – as of Q3 2019, there were just over 1000 worldwide ATMP clinical Trials underway, of which over 60% were Cell based therapies compared to about 40% Gene and other. At the time of writing, it is Q3 2022 and this has grown to 1340.

Finding a solution to this issue is beneficial for both the Client and the Consultant, the consultant has a bigger pool to select from and can therefore apply a more stringent selection process, and the client can reap the benefit of an experienced technical leader from a different therapeutic background, who can implement tried and tested methodologies in getting the most out of a technical team, and taking a product to launch and beyond, without necessarily being the expert on the process themselves.

Furthermore, because many of these businesses are in London/Cambridge/Oxford, and all using similar technologies and processes. The main pulling factor for these candidates is salary, and this is causing a rapid increase in candidates “market rate”. As every new start up arrives on the market and looks to build a team, their first solution is to target a local competitor and simply offer a raise.

While this may work for them in the short term, it is inevitable that they will become victim to similar tactics further down the line, and if this happens year on year for a significant period, candidates are going to be earning well above their market rate.

As a Search professional, should this not be good news? Higher Fees?

I have already outlined the risk of having a Biotech led client base in terms of available funding, the increase in salaries is unlikely to result in an increase in recruitment budget for paying the higher fees. Leading to less available jobs and therefore less chance of placement.

For example, a London based Senior Scientist in the current Cell & Gene Therapy market, is likely earning £50-60K, and this person has probably got a PhD with 3-5 years’ experience. Their counterpart in the Biopharma market at this salary, is more like 5-7 years’ experience.

My advice to my clients, is that for a role in the Cell & Gene therapy market, a shortlist of 5 candidates should include 3 from ATMPs, and 2 from Biopharma. This enables a side-by-side comparison with a trade off between years of experience and specific experience in ATMPs.

“Relying solely on VC funded Biotech’s for a revenue stream is exposing yourself to significant risk outside of your control”

Inflation, Interest rates, and general financial hesitancy to name a few. There has been a noticeable reduction in the availability of VC funding, therefore a reduction in the budget available for recruitment. Given they do not typically have a commercial product or another revenue generation stream, there is nothing our clients can do to generate more income apart from ask the bank.

We are always taught to maximise our control over both our candidates and clients, how can we rely so heavily on something we have potentially very little control over?

From the above chart it is clear there is money to be made from the Biotech market but relying on a client base whose entire existence hinges on the launch of one product, which is often several years away, seems commercially irresponsible.

I recommend securing some larger, establish clients with commercial output and tangible revenue, to guarantee yourself a steady flow of jobs. THEN you can supplement this with some of the fascinating work that is occurring in the UK Biotech market.

If you would like to connect and discuss current market trends and upcoming mandates, please reach out using my details below.


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