The Biotechnology industry is experiencing a renaissance, accelerated by the advancements of artificial intelligence, machine learning, engineering and new biological discoveries. This accelerated renaissance will fizzle out unless we solve the current talent shortage in the industry.
In my 10+ years working in the biopharma industry, never have I seen such exciting progress in biotech, including transformational breakthroughs such as CAR-T, CRISPR, and mRNA therapies. While this is positive, the industry as a whole is challenged to find the right talent. It is not new that the industry has a shortage of technicians; what is new is that as employers, we compete for talent alongside tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and more – because people working in AI, digital programming, and data management are so important to the future of this industry. We must attract them from beyond the bioindustry talent pools.
This topic is not just important, it’s urgent.
Talent in the biopharma industry in APAC
In the Global Biopharma Resilience Index, commissioned by Cytiva and compiled by Longitude, the research arm of the Financial Times, “access to talent” and “talent development” are cited by biopharma C-suite leaders, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, as one key topic that keeps them awake at night. Industry leaders from higher-income countries such as Japan and South Korea point to accelerating talent costs as a major challenge, while lower-income countries including Indonesia and Thailand face difficulties in sourcing and training talents. The demand for vaccines and therapies, post COVID-19, will put tremendous pressure and demand on talent acquisition in the sector. At the same time, the pull of global biotech and tech hubs has been keenly felt in recent years. The UK’s “golden triangle”, Massachusetts and the San Francisco Bay Area drive progress by luring and concentrating talents with financial incentives as well as advanced infrastructure.
Importantly, we have also learned during the COVID pandemic that human capital issues are at the forefront of job seekers’ minds. How are we, as employers, encouraging well-being, inclusion and diversity, and as such, enabling superteams?
During the pandemic, ensuring the wellbeing, both physically and mentaly, of our associates is my top priority. As a marathon runner, I tries to find time for problem-solving running before work starts or around lunch. It clears my head and gives me some space and oxygen. More importantly, it helps me understand that everyone needs their own “running” time, and it will shape the future culture of workplace. We should definitely take this into the package we offer to the talents.
Creating a Silicon Valley of the East
California’s Silicon Valley has been the hotbed for innovation and invention for decades. It remains home to many successful startups who have become global tech giants, and continues to attract the world’s top talent. A key contributing factor to Silicon Valley’s success is collaboration – an ecosystem for academia, the private sector and government to unite to create a platform that attracts top entrepreneurs and talents. Its unique approach to failure – ‘fail fast’ – has led to the creation of more successful ideas to emerge from the Valley as entrepreneurs are taught to assess, refine and reestablish a system that will work.
Asia is entering into a golden era: the rise of Big Tech in China, superapps in Southeast Asia and India; and as more companies are shifting global operations eastwards, Asia is becoming a powerhouse of innovation in its own right. We are seeing highly advanced and complex science – that ordinarily takes place in US – occurring here in Asia. There are now more than 2,900 biotechs in Asia Pacific1, many of them venturing into unchartered, green fields, discovering and developing next generation technologies and therapies.
This is one of the reasons why Cytiva built its Fast Trak centers and Experience labs in China, South Korea, India, Japan and Singapore. These facilities are intended to provide hands-on training for thousands of professionals each year, empowering them with the skills they need to drive this industry forward. We offer world class courses on the technologies and equipment in both upstream and downstream biomanufacturing – key to discovery research organisations, as well as mature biopharmas.
Of course, building a Silicon Valley of East involves a multistakeholder approach that brings together academia, industry and government to drive the entire industry forward. One of the large-scale collaborations I’ve been really excited about here in Asia-Pacific is China-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (CSGKC). CSGKC is truly a joint effort, bringing together the governments of China and Singapore alongside thousands of commercial organizations in this vast 178sq km science hub. Cytiva is fortunate to be involved in CSGKC’s development through its work with companies such as BeiGene, Lonza and Akesobio, who we have assisted in rapidly establishing manufacturing capabilities in the park with our KUBio prefabricated biopharma facilities.
The knock-on effect of projects like CSGKC is easy to see, as Guangzhou and the surrounding area becomes a key regional hub for the biopharma industry. Guangzhou International Bio Island is another center of intense collaboration in the Greater Bay Area, and another project in which Cytiva has been actively involved, most recently through our partnership with the Guangzhou Development District Investment Promotion Bureau (GDD) to establish the Guangzhou Bioprocess Academy training center for biopharma professionals. The academy provides biopharmaceutical manufacturing training on the latest biologic drug production processes, and by the time the academy reaches its first anniversary later this year we expect to have trained around 1,000 professionals from local academia and customers.
Elsewhere in Asia-Pacific, Genome Valley in Hyderabad is another regional hub that is driving innovation in life sciences, with over 150 companies and 10,000 professionals concentrated in the cluster1. Cytiva recently announced an agreement with the State of Telangana to open a new FastTrak lab in the area, which will help the biotechnology hub increase production efficiency, reduce cost and speed to market.
For years, we have provided end-to-end support, from technical consultacy to financing, to the bioindustry ecosystem. By building the foundational infrastructure for training and development and programmes, particularly for emerging translational research institutes and biotech start-ups, we are facilitating the creation of Asia’s Silicon Valley — enabling an ecosystem that nurtures homegrown talent and innovation.
Securing biopharma talent of the future
Some say that one may have at least five careers in a lifetime. You may be an entrepreneur, scientist or a software engineer with a focus on marketing. The conflation of technology and science have allowed for people to explore different career paths. New talent pools with new skill sets or significant retraining will be needed to stay on top of these technology trends. At Cytiva, we are looking forward to collaborating with academia, biotech, platform companies and data providers to develop the talents for the future, and of the future.
Personally, I was lucky enough to make a transition into Life Sciences from a different industry relatively early on in my career. It took significant investment in learning, going through different functional experiences and perseverance to build a career. I always found that the unique purpose of our industry makes it all worth it. The pandemic has given the critical role of Life Sciences a great deal of exposure, in places where we didn’t have it before; let us use this momentum to attract new job seekers from unlikely places and convince them this is the best place to be.
Francis Van Parys is currently responsible for providing transformational technologies in biopharmaceutical research, manufacturing and diagnostics to Cytiva customers and partners in the lifesciences industry in China, India, Japan, Korea, ASEAN and Australia-New Zealand.
While his name would suggest a French connection, Francis is a Belgian citizen whose career has spanned far and wide, and he is currently based in Asia.
Francis is a seasoned global executive who served in a number of General Management roles before becoming President of GE Healthcare Korea in 2017. In that role, he was responsible for helping provide medical technologies and solutions to the healthcare industry in Korea, from diagnostic imaging,monitoring and digital solutions through to life sciences.
He joined Cytiva when it was known as GE Healthcare Life Sciences in 2009 as General Manager for Commercial Operations in EMEA and was later appointed Global Product General Manager, Research and Applied Markets, responsible for the consumables and hardware portfolio. He then became Global Commercial General Manager for Cell Culture in 2016.
Francis started his career by joining GE in a sales leadership program in 2001 and had early-care assignments in Belgium and Germany, before taking on sales marketing positions of increasing responsibility at GE Industrial Solutions.
He graduated from the University of Ghent in Belgium with a Master’s degree in Material Science and Engineering. He also holds a Master of Science in Polymer Technology from UMIST in Manchester,UK. Francis lives in Seoul, Korea, with his wife and two sons.