Guest Blog | The Talent Vaccine

Dr Jen Vanderhoven, Director of Teesside University’s National Horizons Centre talks about the work being done to establish the UK’s training provision for vaccine manufacturing, advanced therapies and bioprocessing.

As someone who has spent their entire career working in the life sciences sector, it’s a constant source of delight to find that suddenly everybody in the country can name two or three major bioscience companies and talk with a semblance of knowledge about various vaccines, their efficacy and side-effects.

While for obvious reasons much of the focus has been on the discovery and development of new vaccines, for me, just as important is how they are delivered. Ensuring that every adult in the country gets two shots of a particular COVID-19 vaccine is no mean feat.

As we re-adjust to a post-pandemic life it seems increasingly likely that COVID-19 is going to be an ever-present in some form. Quite how that will be manifested is yet to be seen, but it is a safe guess that constant vigilance will be needed to keep track of emergent strains and develop booster vaccines to tackle these variants. 

For those involved in biomanufacturing that presents a challenge. How we do we ensure that our industry can meet these demands? We can all point to particular instances in the past few months where we have not been able to respond to the threat of COVID-19 as quickly as we may have liked and the key is to ensure that these situations do not re-occur.

In addition, the promise of RNA technologies to create not just vaccines, but also provide treatments for cancers and other devastating diseases, alongside cell and gene therapies, means that the bioindustry is growing at a pace never seen before.

We need our vaccine manufacturing businesses to be able to respond quickly and efficiently to demand and be able to scale their production and processes at pace. For this to occur, we need an agile and highly skilled vaccine manufacturing workforce.

Delivering on this ‘talent vaccine’ cannot be done by one organisation, but requires collaboration - between universities, industry, and the Government – collaboration is key.

There is a nationwide collaborative effort in the UK to make sure we remain world leaders in the sector and prepared for future pandemics. During the pandemic, the Advanced Therapies Skills Training Network (ATSTN), was born. Backed by £4.7 million in funding from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Innovate (IUK), this national initiative aims to drive growth across the advanced therapies and vaccine manufacturing industry, through offering access to training facilities and an online training platform which can address the UK’s demand for skills.

The ATSTN has, to date, funded three National Centres for Advanced Therapies Training, and I am delighted that the National Horizons Centre was officially launched as one of these earlier this year.

The National Horizons Centre (NHC) is Teesside University's £22.3m centre of excellence for the biosciences and healthcare sector. With research, partnerships, and training at our core, the NHC brings together industry, academia, talent, and world-class facilities to create real-world impact.

As a National Centre for Advanced Therapies, we provide essential on-site training courses, providing you with the hands-on expertise to succeed in advanced therapies, vaccine manufacturing and bioprocessing.

For our training courses we also utilise our cutting-edge digital expertise. Our unique virtual reality training facility provides an immersive experience for learners to develop the vital biomanufacturing skills and techniques without the need for expensive and unwieldy on-site operation. Innovative training techniques such as this will be key to ensuring that our workforce will be adaptable and responsive to industry needs.

We support the full pipeline of training for the biosciences sector. In addition to our advanced therapies, vaccine manufacturing and bioprocessing training, we offer a diverse range of routes to a career in the bioindustries, through our Life Sciences Manufacturing Academy for school leavers, Teesside University apprenticeships, undergraduate and postgraduate courses and continuing professional development.

I am looking forward to talking about the ‘Talent Vaccine’ at the upcoming 18th Annual bioProcessUK Conference in November, where the National Horizons Centre also has an exhibition stand – please come along and talk to us!

For September, October and November 2021, I am delighted that we can offer BIA members, and those attending the bioProcessUK conference, a 25% discount off any of our training courses (and larger discounts for bookings of 5 places or more). Please email j.vanderhoven@tees.ac.uk to take advantage of this.

Dr Jen Vanderhoven is Director of Teesside University’s National Horizons Centre., Her previous roles included vice-president of FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies and manager of a Government-funded Industrial Biotechnology Network where she co-authored the UK National Industrial Biotechnology Strategy to 2030.