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Cell and Gene Therapy – leadership teams must grow fast

This is a great time for companies developing new cell and gene therapy medicines. Success stories are everywhere, deals are being signed, R&D budgets are expanding (with Pfizer and Novartis announcing the latest $500m spree1), investment is flowing, and valuations are high. There are hundreds of new reports about the sector and the data all points one way, with the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine estimating that over 900 companies are currently exploring cell and gene therapies2 and McKinsey predicting that Cell and Gene Therapy will be a ~$40B market by 20243.

In the UK, the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult reported in late November that the number of people working in C&GT has grown from 150 in 2014 to over 3,000 in 2019 and that number is predicted to exceed 6,000 by 2024 4. The Catapult’s CEO, Keith Thompson, said “to keep growing, the industry will need many more skilled people and the expansion of programmes such as the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC) are an essential part of this.”

Keith Thompson highlights a crucial factor about a possible lack of people and skills that could slow the growth in the C&GT sector and lead to a loss of competitiveness in affected markets. More importantly, it could also delay the arrival of vital new therapies for patients. To combat this problem, there is rapid growth in skills training of which the UK’s ATAC skills programme is an important example and many more are being established around the world including Cell Therapy Training by the ASTCT/ISCT in the US and the European Network for the advancement of Clinical Gene Transfer & Therapy in France.

A unique set of challenges

The skills needed to run cell and gene therapy companies are commonly divided into five groups – senior management, R&D, manufacturing / CMC, clinical and regulatory. Few founders have the skills to cover all of these aspects so importing new talent is vital. Research that we published this summer in our latest Talent Equity report https://thersagroup.com/our-services/talent-equity/cellgenetherapy/ showed that C&GT management teams have to grow fast, with the breadth of skills to take them from pre-clinical R&D through to commercialisation. If they can’t do this then it means an early exit before value has been maximised. Working to time-frames that can be as short as four years, C&G companies often have to build from the raw scientific foundations of an academic university- based team to sophisticated fully compliant clinical trial manufacturing ready to go into phase III studies and subsequent commercialisation. Such a fast track puts leaders of C&G companies under huge additional pressures from day one, meaning they need to prepare early for these late stage milestones by bringing in the people who can deliver them from the get-go.

Taking a broader view

In our view, it’s not just manufacturing, technical and managerial skills that are essential to fuel this rapid growth. Adaptability and agility are also vital with investors preferring to partner with management teams that can pivot and adapt. The complexity of C&G development requires people who are creative and collaborative, able to recognise the contribution of all sides, can see the bigger picture, and have credibility and recognition as leaders in their field.

Lateral thinking

Lateral thinking and an open mind can help solve problems of talent scarcity and the expensive delays they can cause. There are a lot of highly talented people available with transferable skills. It’s also important to think about team diversity – not everyone needs to be a specialist and diverse teams are stronger teams. Being open to people who don’t meet some of the other criteria for the role or even those who may not live in exactly the right location helps as well. They have the talent; they just need to work alongside others to develop the expertise companies need. This helps to keep down costs and bring in people with new ways of doing things – new thinking, innovations and new experience.

Change is the only constant

Our survey also showed that a strong balance of science and commercial expertise flexes over the lifetime of drug development to bring the drugs to patients. Different skills and personalities are needed on the journey. Characteristics such as accountability, exceptional science, agility of mind and attitude, open-mindedness, great communication skills and leadership are undoubtedly close to the ideal needed from the people in the team. Add the scientific, medical and commercials skills and it’s a big ask isn’t it? What are your views? We’d love to hear them.

  1. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-genetherapy-novartis/pfizer-novartis-lead-pharma-spending-spree-on-gene-therapy-production-idUSKBN1Y11DP
  2. Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, State of the Industry 2018 https://alliancerm.org/press-release/the-alliance-for-regenerative-medicine-releases-q1-2018-data-report-highlighting-sector-trends-and-metrics/
  3. McKinsey & Co. Presentation, BioNJ’s Manufacturing Briefing (Sept. 2019)
  4. UK cell and gene therapy skills demand report 2019 https://ct.catapult.org.uk/sites/default/files/publication/Catapult_01_UK%20Skills%20Demand%20Report%202019_published_v2.pdf

 

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