This blog contains information originally published as part of the Buisiness of Biotech podcast

Pillar, M. (Host). (2021, June 14). GSK's Michael Mehler On The Cell & Gene Talent Crunch [Audio podcast episode]. The Business of Biotech. BioProcess Online.

Over the last couple of decades, development and advancement in the area of biologic drugs have led to an increasingly complex and diverse industry. These therapies have, in some cases, offered cures for diseases that previously had limited options available for treatment. Lately, we have seen the emergence of novel science and new molecular entities, leading to even more exciting clinical opportunities. With research and breakthroughs occurring at such a fast pace, expertise is being developed alongside the therapeutic itself.

Talent is in short supply in the biopharmaceutical space today, and the competition to acquire it is relentless. The question of how to develop, attract, and retain an advanced therapy, development, manufacturing, and clinical workforce is especially important for emerging biopharma companies, who might lack the reach and resources of more established players.

Lacking the appropriate talent and training programs can slow a molecule’s progress and journey to commercialization. The consequence of having unskilled workers can also be detrimental to a company’s bottom line. An error on even one small batch has the potential to negatively affect patients and cost an organization millions of dollars, along with its reputation.

Michael Mehler has seen this dynamic play out for 15 years. His observations started with his time as a researcher at Stanford and Penn, followed by work with National Comprehensive Cancer Network and then Adaptimmune, a leading T-cell therapy company. Now, he serves as the senior clinical development manager for cell therapy oncology at GlaxoSmithKline, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Talent is necessary to sustain industry potential and, according to Mehler, skills gaps will force biopharma companies to get creative with their solutions. As someone with experience in both small and large pharmaceutical organizations, Mehler has shared valuable insights into what it takes to identify and draw a trained workforce to your doorstep:

Culture attracts talent: When Adaptimmune started out, they were like most emerging biopharma companies — a small core group of passionate, dedicated people. Today, they employ hundreds, but Mehler says establishing that enthusiastic and committed culture early was part of what drove the company’s success. “If you don’t develop that culture as a company, it will be hard to retain people. It will also be hard to get them, especially now as large pharmas start to acquire a lot of companies and products. There’s comfort in terms of job security at these bigger companies.”

Cross-functionality is a key need for companies: Emerging biopharma companies are typically smaller core groups, so the more cross-functionality each team member possesses, the better positioned they are to succeed. Establishing that kind of workflow training early creates a level of expertise and collaboration that can grow with your organization. “You can see this with companies now building out different groups now known as patient supply operations groups. It’s not supply chain necessarily, and it’s not clinical development; it’s a patient supply group that is actually required to work very closely with our clinical sites. This goes for several companies where you have new roles emerging.”

Unconventional training can fill workforce gaps: The Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center, the National Institute for Bioprocess Research and Training, and other specialized workforce education centers are trying to bridge the gap between academia and industry. But there are other avenues for those interested in biopharma to learn specifics about the space. “We have people who’ve joined our company who come fresh from graduate programs in biotechnology that are either specific to manufacturing or are more general scientists,” Mehler told BioProcess Online. “I wish I’d had the opportunity when I was in graduate school to go this route. They’re really incredible talent, the folks who are able to take on, after college, the additional two to three-year programs that are available.”

Hear all of Mehler’s advice on talent acquisition and retention by visiting The Business of Biotech.

Download the Business of Biotech podcast series to hear from guests who turned biotherapy ideas into clinical realities.