THERE is a tremendous opportunity to grow Scotland’s life sciences sector, but a leading figure has said the field will struggle without talented people to unlock Scotland’s biotechnology “revolution”.

And Dr Jonathan Dempsey, managing director of Pathway Biopharma and training partner in the Advanced Therapies Skills Training Network (ATSTN), said we had to attract people with vocational skills to boost manufacturing and encourage school pupils to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

Life sciences accounted for around £1.2 billion of exports from Scotland according to the latest figures – only 3.5% of total international exports.

However, Dempsey said: “There is a tremendous opportunity to grow the industry’s share of this figure, supported not only through further commercialisation and manufacturing, but also highly skilled people.

“Traditionally, people might have thought that bioprocessing roles would need PhD students or skilled researchers, but there is also a growing need for a more all-encompassing approach, from hands-on vocational skills to boost manufacturing to encouraging children to take STEM subjects at school.”

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Bioprocessing uses living cells to produce components or products such as vaccines, biofuels and therapeutic stem cells, and it is one of the world’s fastest growing industries.

“Combined with the strength of Scotland’s innovation and technology ecosystem, we have an opportunity to position ourselves at the forefront of developments in the sector,” said Dempsey.

“With a community of more than 750 life sciences organisations employing over 40,000 people, Scotland is fast becoming a leader in the field.”

He said an additional 133,000 life sciences jobs are predicted to be required across the UK by 2030 , but many people are unaware of much of the cutting-edge biotechnology and pharmaceuticals developments taking place in Scotland.

“To harness the opportunities of the future, we must raise awareness of the range of careers and bring the required skills into the sector,” he said.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) recently launched an apprenticeship programme as an alternative route into employment for school leavers, with career opportunities that combine hands-on experience with classroom training.

Dempsey said it would be great to see more Scottish companies doing the same, but he stressed that nobody should be left behind when it comes to training: “Upskilling is another important factor that will support growth, and a new programme being delivered by the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) as part of the ATSTN seeks to do just that.

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“With programmes tailored for both industry professionals and students, the course showcases Scotland’s position at the forefront of bioprocessing technology and will run for the next two years, building future skills in cell and gene therapy and vaccine manufacturing.

He added: “We are on the cusp of the next industrial revolution, with sustainable bioprocessing at the core.

“Biotechnology has the capacity to transform our lives – from our individual health to the products we all consume – but turning scientific developments into scalable, commercial products is the next step we must master.”