Future drug makers can develop their skills using virtual reality at new national Centre of Excellence

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Future medicine and vaccine makers will be able to develop their skills using virtual reality at a new national Centre of Excellence, after a successful funding bid involving UCL.

The RESILIENCE Centre of Excellence for UK Medicines Manufacturing Skills will deliver training and outreach materials and programmes that address skills demands in the life sciences sector. It will be run by an academic consortium of UK universities led by the University of Birmingham alongside UCL, Teesside University, and Heriot-Watt University as well as Britest LTD.

The Centre will receive £4.5m of funding from Innovate UK and the Office for Life Sciences and will work with healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations to provide an entry point for training and career input, including a pipeline of continuing professional development courses.

Director of UCL Manufacturing Futures Lab, Professor Gary Lye (UCL Biochemical Engineering), said: "The companies involved in the discovery and manufacture of new medicines make a major contribution to the UK economy. As a university, it is important that we support this vital sector through new research and through the education of skilled individuals who will enable the sector to grow.  

"The RESILIENCE grant enables UCL to make two critical interventions in the medicines manufacturing skills pipeline. The first is to attract more students into STEM-based degree programmes by creating new outreach activities, and the second is to develop new hands-on training modules for those already working in the field so that they can keep their skills up to date."  

Students across the UK will benefit from access to training that draws on the best and most innovative teaching being developed by the RESILIENCE Centre, including the use of virtual reality and mixed reality situations that give students 'near to real life' experiences of lab environments for medicine manufacturing.  

Delivery of the UCL RESILIENCE objectives is enabled by the amazing new facilities available to us at UCL East and within the UCL East Manufacturing Futures Lab. These include new outreach and engagement spaces, teaching wet labs and the Management Education Suite where we will deliver some of our new MBI Training Programme modules."

Professor Gary Lye, Director of UCL Manufacturing Futures Lab

The Centre will provide training on digital skills, data analytics, and AI, as well as embedding environmental sustainability into manufacturing processes. With the use of virtual reality and mixed reality delivery modes, manufacturing staff can undertake a significant amount of training in VR rather than the physical environment, reducing the production of manufacturing waste that has to be incinerated, as well as speeding up the training process. 

Ivan Wall, Professor of Regenerative Medicine at the University of Birmingham and Co-Director of RESILIENCE, said: "The UK is a global leader in life sciences research, but there is a critical and growing skills shortage across the medicines manufacturing industry.

"The RESILIENCE Centre of Excellence will bridge this skills gap, by developing a pipeline of talent and providing training for industry to ensure current and future employees possess the right skills for a rapidly evolving sector."  

Teaching and outreach materials will be distributed from RESILIENCE to 150 schools, colleges, and universities for free, enabling them to become affiliate members of the RESILIENCE network, as well as nurture the talent pipeline for the medicines manufacturing sector through education, mentoring and outreach.  

Training courses will also be developed to support the existing workforce in the UK medicines manufacturing community, across industry and NHS, to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of medicines development and is ready to combat future pandemics. 

Addressing a Maths Summit at the Science Museum in London this week, Science and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, said: "Building on our reforms to the skills system will require work from each and every one of us - universities, schools, and businesses.

"By doubling down on our investments in skills and backing British business, we can lay the foundations for an economy fit for the future - an economy that creates jobs and improves lives for communities up and down the country. That is how we make our science and tech superpower mission a success." 

Professor Vikki Rand, Director of Teesside University's National Horizons Centre, a national centre of excellence for bioscience and healthcare, said: "At the National Horizons Centre we have a strong track record for working with partners in the bioscience sector developing innovative training for the workforce.  

"By combining hands-on training on the latest equipment with digital technology, including VR and AR, we deliver real impact for the companies, by saving quality time and resources and giving them the ability to train their employees at scale".  

Professor Nik Willoughby at Heriot-Watt University said: "We are thrilled to participate in RESILIENCE, contributing significantly to the education of the upcoming generation with essential skills for the development and manufacture of future medicines. Our emerging Global Research Institute in Health and Care Technologies exemplifies our commitment to advancing healthcare through innovative research-led teaching and entrepreneurial collaboration."  

Dr Kirk Malone, Commercial Director of Britest LTD, said: "As an SME-sized company that supports organisations to sustainably grow through better process understanding, we appreciate the importance of skills training and development. RESILIENCE will instil multidisciplinary thinking into future skilled workers to enable more sustainable medicines manufacturing."  

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