Conference recap: Building the Next Generation of Leaders in Canadian Biomanufacturing

Tim Lougheed
May 17, 2022

Whether you are preparing stem cells for research or putting the finishing touches on a vaccine that will be distributed across the country, biomanufacturing is a fussy business. It calls for an understanding and adherence to strict standards, such as good manufacturing practice (GMP) qualifications that are essential to making these products publicly available.

The Covid pandemic demonstrated Canada’s eagerness to make such products available. This public health challenge has prompted more than $1.3 billion in federal investment in 29 domestic projects dedicated to biomanufacturing, vaccine research, and therapeutic development. As these efforts gather momentum, the next challenge will be ensuring that there are skilled individuals to carry out this work.

That mandate has been taken up by the Canadian Alliance for Skills and Training in Life Sciences (CASTL), a not-for-profit initiative of the PEI BioAlliance, the Charlottetown-based organization dedicated to building up that province’s biosciences sector.

“CASTL really steered the ship toward supporting technical skills and training in biomanufacturing, and specifically biopharma manufacturing,” Executive Director Penny Walsh-McGuire told attendees at a partner session in this year’s Research Money conference.

She noted that the growing attention to biomanufacturing in Canada has revealed a talent gap that CASTL and others are now addressing. Industry consortium BioTalent Canada has suggested that by 2029, the country’s employers may only be able to fill a quarter of the available jobs in biomanufacturing. Similarly, Montreal-based adMare BioInnovations brings together the specialized facilities and funding necessary to build new biotech firms, but it is also training the people who will populate those firms.

“We see CASTL and our partnership with organizations like adMare and academic institutions being part of an ecosystem solution,” explained Walsh-McGuire.

She added that commitment has moved into an even more ambitious phase after recently signing a five-year agreement with the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) in Ireland. This collaboration gives CASTL the ability to apply a comprehensive training curriculum developed by NIBRT, which has a major training facility on the campus of University College, Dublin.

With that resource in place, new training facilities are being established in British Columbia, Quebec, and on the premises of the PEI BioAlliance. Walsh-McGuire conducted a virtual fly-through of the Charlottetown site, which is to be opened this fall. The plans include classrooms as well as a pilot-scale manufacturing facility where trainees will be able to operate in clean-rooms and aseptic spaces that meet GMP standards.

She also outlined three types of learning streams: new-skilling, for students who may be concurrently studying at a college or university program; re-skilling, for employees who have been hired from another sector into an entry-level position at a pharmaceutical or biotechnology enterprise; and up-skilling, where established employees in such enterprises can earn the most current qualifications in their field.

“We are trying to lead an initiative that supports Canada’s vaccine production by offering training for current and future talent,” concluded Walsh-McGuire, who argued that talent on the ground will make Canada a more attractive destination for companies from elsewhere. “We’re trying to be part of the solution to address the local skills and training skills gap.”


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