Rare diseases and cell and gene therapy executive recruitment specialist Steve Smith outlines six key strategies for attracting and retaining talent in these rapidly emerging fields.


In a young industry experiencing rapid growth, talent demand far outweighs supply

Cell & Gene Therapy; “It’s no longer something people read about in the paper and think will never happen, like just 5 years ago. It’s here, it’s happening, right now” – a high-impact quote during the 2019 World Advanced Therapies and Regenerative Medicines Congress in London a few weeks back.

These are very exciting times for our world. However, as with any major industry evolutional leap, exciting developments on the cutting edge come with a whole host of teething problems.

There are many challenges in this exciting space right now. Every moving part of the industry is experiencing its own snags. However, one complication that resonates across all these moving parts, at every level – and cannot be ignored – is the major talent gap.

In a young industry experiencing rapid growth, talent demand far outweighs supply. The ripple effects reach far and wide and result in most products failing. This is often not because of the science, but because businesses lack the right people. People who are sufficiently qualified, experienced and intellectually equipped for the business. This estimation may sound grim, but it is the reality of the present Cell & Gene Therapy market.

Unlike established big pharma, the shortages run both horizontally across pretty much every business function and at every level of seniority. The number of investor networked C-Level Execs, scientists, technicians, engineers, medics, regs professionals, manufacturers, market access experts etc. that are CGT savvy is not currently enough to support the needs. Keeping in mind that much of the policy is being developed “on the job”, being able to find people across all functions and levels of seniority for your business could just mean life or death for your product, business and sadly, we the patients.

There are great initiatives underway to address things in the longer term. The best example may be the UK and Innovate UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund having recently awarded £1.5million towards a new ATMP apprenticeship scheme. It brings together Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult, University of Kent and MMIP on a 3-year pilot, to upskill students in workplace environments instead of university.

But in the short term, there are hundreds of CGT businesses currently in operation; and new ones securing investment daily. And yet…there isn’t enough talent to serve even a small proportion of them. Some will win, some will lose. It cannot be stressed enough that many more will lose due to the people (or lack of…), not the science.

Candidates are approached every day about jobs in this space and can afford to be choosey. They have the power; they are the future; they are the holy grail if your product is to survive….

So, what are the winners doing; and how can you be one of them?

Made with Visme Infographic Maker


Have something to offer and know what it is

Is it your science, board, hiring manager, financial backing, recent data, state-of-the-art facilities, culture, equity package; or any of the other millions of things that make up an “opportunity”?

Whatever makes you special, know what it is and be ready to present it in all its glory to attract people to your business, and distract them from your competition.


Get Moving

Rip up your recruitment process. Go straight to a single-round face-to-face interview at the drop of a hat and get the person you want offered within 24 hours. A Next Phase client (a major pharma with lots of internal red-tape) recently tore up internal policy and turned around a recruitment process from CV to offer in under 3 days – yet they still lost the candidate to a quicker offer from a major competitor!


Train to retain

“How do I keep hold of people?” is the most common question I am asked by management teams. Once someone starts in your business, the door knocking does not stop, and it’s only a matter of time before another company poaches them. This is particularly true for smaller start-ups losing their people to the handful of established businesses (i.e. the ones that are doing the things you are reading about here).

Offering ongoing training – with contracted claw-back protection – is a superb way of attracting and retaining talent. You will also be upskilling your business, which is a great idea in a talent-stricken market!


Offer big

Winners are getting their cash out. They are beefing up budgets and ignoring salary surveys. A client recently changed a role from contract to permanent, offered £22,000 (31%) over top-end bracket, way overshot the candidate’s expectations and added a £5,000 sign-on to ensure they won them. The candidate still took time to think before accepting the offer (but they did!). Also, if the people you are looking to hire are breaking benchmarking brackets in your business, consider that your other employees may need a package check before someone else tempts them out.


Use a specialist recruitment agency

In these markets, the agency you choose can mean life or death for your business, so proceed with caution. Using an agency partner that can offer proper search & selection services will be hugely advantageous in securing the best-in-industry hires. You can learn more about recruiting methodology in this space here


Be open to speculative applications

Unfortunately, the more unruly of recruitment firms have created a stigma around speculative applications. However, when supply is short, it might just be worth your while taking 10 seconds to peak at a CV if it lands in your inbox. In amongst the streams of ill-matched specs, there may just be a shining star or two from the good guys.

Recruiting in Cell & Gene Therapy is a tough yet critical task, and like all industries will be filled with winners and losers. Regardless of who those players are, we, the patients, have a lot of hope ahead of us during this next phase towards curing the world of disease. Being imaginative and evolving your approach to recruitment will be crucial to survival. After all; Life is all about change – and change is good!