University College London (UCL) is poised to become among the world’s first universities to offer a taught MSc program in the manufacturing and commercialization of stem cell and gene therapies.
The program, which opened for applications last month, aims to develop the next generation of engineers, scientists and business professionals to address the manufacturing, scientific and commercial challenges of these new therapy types.
The MSc program follows a report by the UK’s Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership (MMIP), a lobby group for medicine manufacturing, that found a significant skill gap in MSc/PhD programs looking at regenerative medicine, cell, and gene therapy.
“They felt the biggest gap was in engineering and manufacturing–how to get biological studies through the clinical development pipeline, from scaleup back to the patient,” explains Qasim Rafiq, PhD, an associate professor in cell & gene therapy bioprocess engineering at UCL.
He highlights the well-known challenge for UK science. “When you look at biologics and protein production, the UK has three or four Nobel laureates, but did not manage to translate that innovation (into biomanufacturing).”
To try to avoid this problem with cell and gene therapy, UCL successfully applied for Office for Students (OfS) government funding for an MSc program. “We think it’s unique in the UK,” he says. “And there’s no other similar program I can think of globally.”
According to Rafiq, they hope to train students to consider the manufacturing challenges of scaling up a therapy from the lab to large patient cohorts. Offered originally as a one year, in-person full-time course, the intention is to extend it to a two-year, part-time course that can be taught to industry professionals using virtual technologies.
The course will be taught using the Bioengineering Department’s Future Manufacturing Research Hub for Targeted Healthcare, a small-scale manufacturing facility that serves students, researchers and industry collaborators.
By 2022, Rafiq explains the course will move to a new single-use manufacturing facility when UCL opens a new multi-million pound campus on the site of the 2012 Summer Olympics.