Training to meet demand in growing cell therapy industry

Cell therapy is a burgeoning area of medical science with the potential to reverse the downward spiral of life-threatening diseases. Its application ranges from helping extremely sick babies, to acute stroke patients, to cancer patients. However, there is a major gap in this rapidly growing industry: qualified staff who can undertake the cell manufacturing needed as part of the therapy.

Hudson Institute’s Associate Professor Rebecca Lim is tackling this issue head-on by collaborating with commercial operations to develop a new course that will train qualified medical laboratory scientists to manufacture cell-based products.

The two-week practical course will be a game changer for an industry with exceedingly high current and future demand for this skillset.

A/Prof Bec Lim

A/Prof Rebecca Lim

Collaborating with the commercial sector

The idea for this novel collaboration came about in early 2018 when A/Prof Lim attended the Phacilitate Leaders World conference in Miami – a major meeting of researchers, clinicians, patient groups and industry partners in stem and gene therapies.

A/Prof Lim said, “I had been noticing for some time that cell therapy projects tend to stall or bottleneck when it came to recruiting trained cell manufacturing staff.

“However, it wasn’t until I talked with Cell Therapies CEO Dawn Driscoll and Scinogy CEO David James at the conference and that I learnt the commercial world was experiencing this same skill gap,” she said.

Her conversation with Ms Driscoll and Mr James led to the idea of collaborating to create a new training course. The result is a short course launching in November this year, which has been devised by Monash University in collaboration with A/Prof Lim and industry partners Cell Therapies and Thermo Fisher.

Manufacturing stem cells

Cell therapies use living cells to treat a range of diseases. Examples include whole blood transfusions, cancer immunotherapies and stem cell therapies.

Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) underpins the new short course that A/Prof Lim will be delivering in collaboration with Cell Therapies Pty and Thermo Fisher. GMP is a set of principles and procedures used in a wide range of manufacturing industries (from pharmaceuticals to automotive) that ensures consistency in the production of high-quality products.

A/Prof Lim learnt about GMP early in her career while training as a lab technician in Singapore. The process predates industrial scale cell manufacturing and is relatively new and not always utilised at the early stages of clinical translation.

“All reputable organisations should use GMP when manufacturing cells. It holds the process to a high standard and ensures Australians receiving the end product aren’t placed at risk, regardless of which stage of clinical testing the product is at,” A/Prof Lim said.

Making cell therapies available to everyone

This is not the first time that A/Prof Lim has worked to bridge the gap between academia and industry. A partnership with Scinogy has led to new technology that replaces the need for an expensive ‘clean room’ by creating a portable controlled environment.

Initiatives like this reduce the time needed for cell manufacturing, which in turn reduces the cost of cell production – making it more widely available.

“There’s no reason that science should add to the wealth divide in health. It’s my hope that in the future, your wealth or the place where you were born will not affect your ability to access these treatments.

“If we can make a more efficient workforce who are armed with the right skills, then we can meet the demands of the workforce and costs should come down,” she said.

Though developing a training course is ordinarily outside of the remit of a research scientist, for A/Prof Lim it is part of this larger picture of affordable health.

“Australia can lead the Asia Pacific region by demonstrating that we can reduce costs for patients and companies can still make a profit,” she said.

Who is suited to this course?

“The exciting thing about this course is it is well suited to a broad range of people, not necessarily scientists.

“It is well-suited to people from industries that are becoming obsolete, who are looking to re-train and re-enter the workforce – such as those from the automotive industry.

“The main pre-requisite is a qualification in medical laboratory science either from Tafe or University. For individuals looking to re-skill or re-train into this industry, Tafe courses that lead to entry into this course can be completed in around a year.

“The key skills we want to see in future cell manufacturers are a high-level attention to detail and ability to follow processes,” A/Prof Lim said.

The course will be run at The Ritchie Centre, Hudson Institute and at Cell Therapies Pty Ltd, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. The first cohort begins 11 – 22 November 2019.

The course will be the first of its kind in Australia.

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