The coronavirus quickly emerged last year as the largest peacetime public health crisis in over a century. As Covid-19 spread across continents, governments adopted emergency measures in a desperate attempt to limit both health effects and indirect social and economic costs. The need to enact fast measures sheds light on the importance of the biopharmaceutical industry to the lives of people all over the world.
The biopharma industry is engaged in the research, development and manufacture of naturally synthesised medications – vaccines grown in culture, for example, versus chemically produced or synthetic pharmaceuticals. This innovative field is set to reach a global market value of $535bn by 2027, and the UK is already one of the world leaders in biopharma R&D. The sector employs 60,000 workers in highproductivity jobs requiring specialised skills, with many of these roles in the north-west and other places outside of the traditional south-eastern “Golden Triangle”. An additional 50,000 work across a supply chain commanding an annual turnover of over £29bn.
The unprecedented events of the past 18 months, however, have exposed weaknesses within the sector. To identify the biggest risks during this crucial period, Cytiva surveyed more than 1,000 senior executives in the industry to develop a holistic appraisal of the state of biopharma. It then published the findings of this Global Biopharma Resilience Index study.
For the recent progress in the industry to continue, Cytiva found there was much to be done. At a time when biopharma’s work became more important than ever before, the pandemic exposed stretched and globalised supply chains, skills and talent shortages, unreliable manufacturing capabilities, and governance and regulatory issues.
One bright spot from the pandemic has been the successful and collaborative R&D ecosystem that emerged in the scramble for a coronavirus vaccine. This type of cooperative, cross-sector working will need to continue long after Covid-19 is over. The unprecedented speed at which the industry was able to develop, manufacture, and roll out vaccines will serve as a new target to maintain.
But with the exception of Covid-19 efforts, the Resilience Index revealed that research silos are very much a reality. Only 34 per cent of biopharma executives agreed there was a widespread culture of cooperation and open innovation in private companies versus 32 per cent in academic institutions, and 30 per cent in contract research organisations and think tanks. Partnership remains a challenge, and a lack of collaboration hinders innovation.
Developing a deep pool of specialised talent in manufacturing, digital and R&D is crucial to the future of the industry. It is also the industry’s biggest struggle. One-quarter of executives stated it has become increasingly difficult to source a skilled workforce. Only one-fifth said domestic labour regulations supported the recruitment of talent from abroad. The end of free movement within the UK coupled with the decline of international travel could exacerbate this trend. With the UK creating a new points-based system, it is essential that skilled individuals can come and work in this growing sector.
To address the talent struggle, British schools are emphasising science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The government is also working to promote these subjects, along with an increased focus on technical education. But the skills gap persists, with demand in this burgeoning sector outstripping limited supply, and a lack of affordable talent stunting development in the industry.
As it is necessary to construct a collaborative model within R&D, part of the talent solution lies in establishing fruitful partnerships – working with local universities, trade associations and government to set up the right training, create internships, and help people transition into the biopharma industry.
Supply chain constraints are another area of concern for the sector that Cytiva explored through the Resilience Index. The findings from the research reflect how the pandemic placed increased pressures on global trade and crossborder production, both central to the industry. China and India have become the centres of generic medication and active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing, and 47 per cent of executives surveyed said that their countries were dependent on drug imports. The data that emerged in the study suggests that many key industry players want to boost their resilience by reducing import dependence. The majority surveyed declared the era of automatic outsourcing over, and 67 per cent of respondents said that domestic production was likely to increase over the next three years.
The political impetus behind the re-shoring trend, and the desire to boost resilience, is strong. The embrace of various shades of economic nationalism, protectionism, and industrial strategies that foster investment in domestic manufacturing will likely continue. Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s health commissioner, has asked bloc members to work towards “reducing our dependency on other countries”.
But building local supply chains from the ground up will not be easy. The prohibitive costs of every country developing the requisite biopharmaceutical facilities will prevent states from retreating entirely inwards and limit autarky and deglobalisation. While elements of the supply chain, like packaging, could benefit from localisation, the pandemic has aptly demonstrated how global collaboration and partnership are the key ingredients to success in the biopharma field.
Over the past decade, the use of biopharmaceutical therapeutics has increased dramatically, but the Covid-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call for the industry. The survey respondents recognise that business models need to adapt – the industry must embrace permanent collaboration and build deep partnerships to boost innovation and quicken the process of taking drugs from laboratory to market. Part of the solution relies on improved supply chains, with an emphasis on fostering talent and working together to embed cutting-edge technologies into our approach. The Cytiva Biopharma Global Resilience Index offers a snapshot of what’s needed for continued industry success, a key first step towards securing a resilient and innovative biopharmaceutical future for all.
This article originally appeared in our issue on Biotechnology: The breakthrough sector. Download the full issue here.