The life sciences sector, and in particular manufacturers of advanced therapies, need to expand their workforce substantially over next few years to meet demand, according to Hayley Mulhall, PhD, CEO, and co-founder of FourPlus, a new startup that is bringing virtual reality (VR) into the cell and gene therapy space. “We see these training methods as a catalyst for that,” she says.
Mulhall will be talking about FourPlus at a “Dragons Den” style pitching event for best new technology at the 17th Annual bioProcessUK Conference in December. The company, which launched in April, offers high-end virtual laboratories where technicians can train wearing head-mounted displays.
“There’s a benefit in reducing the cost of consumables and of taking equipment out of production to train people,” Mulhall explains. Other advantages include “learning by productive failure” whereby technicians can make errors in VR that they couldn’t make in a wet lab.
In addition, VR technology offers the opportunity for data capture and visualizations, such as seeing where a technician has cleaned in a GMP laboratory. Users can also receive training personalized to their experiences and background, rather than having to train as a large group in a lab.
The company, which is based in Birmingham, U.K., is already working on a project and is liaising with new customers. They design mostly bespoke solutions, Mulhall says, but are also working on a piece of off-the-shelf software.
“The oil and gas industry is pushing forward in VR, and so we thought it would be brilliant for the life sciences sector,” says Mulhall, who has a background in cell therapy, as an explanation for why she founded the company. “There aren’t many people doing this currently, or they’re doing it in an exploratory way.”
She explains that they have a large multi-disciplinary team of developers who can transfer life science processes into VR, and overcome barriers within the industry.