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Viral Vector scientists are in demand due to the emergence of Viral Therapeutics as a sector and Gene Therapies continue their rapid development. The role of a viral vector scientist is to develop Adeno Virus, AAV, Lentiviral and Retroviral vectors for the use in the delivery of Gene Therapies. The use of which vector depends of the therapy under development, for example AAV vectors have the greatest potential to move away from soft tissue to develop therapies for the CNS whereas Lentiviral vectors are commonly used in ophthalmic treatments. Scientists with experience in the development of these vectors are in demand as there is a sharp increase in the number of therapies crossing the translational gap to reach the clinic.
The engineering of viral vectors focuses on using different genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR or PCR. In addition, a Viral Vector scientist will have experience of cell culture, often mammalian, to develop viral packaging cell lines for the production of AAV, Adenoviral, Lentiviral and Retroviral vectors. Following on from the engineering of viral vectors is their production which ranges from small scale batches for research use, which is often experimental itself, to well established production methods for vectors for larger commercial or for use in clinical trials. Due to the cutting-edge nature of these roles within the Biotech sector, scientists have the chance to use their innovative and creative thinking to develop novel concepts.
Job titles in this sector are generally linked to the vector that the scientist is working on, for example Lentiviral Scientist, or AAV Production Scientist. However, there are more common titles that are generic such as Scientist or Process Development Scientist. Scientists will work on different stages of Viral Vector development from their initial engineering through to process development and manufacture. Different skills needed for each stage with some higher qualified scientists developing the new methods and those beginning their careers following established methods as they gain more experience to develop their career further.
Skill and Experience.
- BSc, MSc, or PhD in a relevant subject such as Virology or Molecular Biology or Cell Biology with a VV focus.
- Skills include mammalian cell culture (stable and adherent lines), vector engineering, genetic engineering e.g. CRISPR, PCR, FACS, flow cytometry, FACS, transfection, transduction, and assay development.
- Innovative and Creative thinking are often needed in this cutting edge area.
Entering Viral Therapeutics as a graduate, you could expect to earn something in the region of £19k - £25k depending on the location and company type. Salaries within the commercial Pharmaceutical sector tend to increase steadily but unspectacularly with each next phase, to around “mid to late 30s” (higher for managers). Salaries tend to be higher in the specialist Biotech sector, which often attracts people with a higher qualification level (e.g. PhD). In this sector, especially in London, Oxford or Cambridge, salaries can get a lot higher a lot quicker (e.g. £40k - £50k), though there may not be the same level of job security as companies may be more reliant on external funding grants.