Pharmaceutical companies are finding it difficult to recruit for high skilled roles in the UK because of a shallow pool of good quality candidates, raising concerns that the country’s standing in global research and development is in danger of being weakened.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry is warning that an ongoing skills shortage threatens to undermine medicines R&D as pharmas are forced to seek expertise abroad, stalling growth and investment in the sector.  

According to its report, Bridging the skills gap in the biopharmaceutical industry, the most concerning skills cited by industry leaders fall within “interdisciplinary areas” involving mathematics and biology.

Nine out of 10 surveyed cited concern about quality and quantity of candidates for vacancies in critical and fast-moving areas such as bioinformatics, health informatics, statistics and data mining, while 90% said they are seeing poor communications and team-working skills in new recruits.

Also of note, the ABPI says long-standing issues in the number and quality of applicants in areas such as translational medicine, clinical pharmacology and veterinary and toxicological pathology, highlighted in its previous skills report in 2008, are re-emerging as areas of concern.

Multi-sector approach and investment

The report authors have called for multi-sector approach and co-investment from the industry and government to tackle what is “a complex set of issues”, including a focus on the education pathway, “from the school curriculum to post-graduate studies and more high-quality apprenticeships,” the ABPI noted.

“We absolutely need to work with government and health and education policy makers to understand how best to address these gaps and challenges, in order to secure the UK’s position in life sciences and ensure it remains able to compete globally for talent and investment,” said Malcolm Skingle, chair of the Association’s Academic Liaison Expert Network. “Only through collaboration and co-investment between all relevant organisations can we ensure that the UK sustains and grows a highly skilled workforce for our sector in the future.”

Last week a report from the House of Commons science and technology committee, released ahead of chancellor George Osborne’s spending review on November 25, warned that extra investment in the sector is crucial if the UK is to hold on to its status as a "science superpower".