Alan Dickson, BSc, PhD


Personal profile


Biopharmaceuticals are new medicines that are made biologically. “Biologically” means that the production is too complex for simple chemistry and that we currently have to direct biological materials – cells, using the spectrum of natural catalytic reactions - to make these revolutionary medicines. Having started from production of insulin (for treatment of diabetes), the technology now allows for production of many new medicines (eg protein antibodies) that can be used to detect and treat a wide range of other debilitating disease conditions. Detection of cancer cells, delivery of toxic materials to selectively kill cancer cells and alleviation of diseases associated with inappropriate immune responses (eg rheumatoid arthritis) are all made possible by biopharmaceuticals. Making biopharmaceuticals is complex, time-consuming and financially expensive and I work on increasing the understanding of how the production by cells can be made faster, more predictable and more able to deal with biopharmaceuticals that are difficult to make. By working collaboratively with industrial partners, individually and as part of the Centre of Excellence in Biopharmaceuticals (, we are helping to accelerate development of novel therapeutic approaches of great clinical and commercial significance.

Research interests

Biotechnology, Bioprocessing and Biopharmaceuticals: Gene Expression in Industrially-Relevant Systems

Therapeutic regimes have been revolutionised by the development of technologies for the isolation of specific genes and for the introduction and expression of these genes in suitable host cells. There is an ever increasing list of proteins which are generated from recombinant DNA technology; many of these proteins make treatment possible for clinical conditions previously beyond the scope of alternative strategies. For optimal effectiveness, many therapeutic proteins require post-translational modifications which can only be performed fully by mammalian cells. Thus, much attention has been focused by academic and industrial groups towards optimisation of mammalian cell systems (Bioprocessing) as hosts for high level expression of commercially-valuable recombinant proteins (Biopharmaceuticals). It is clear that the pipeline of biopharmaceuticals contains a number of potential “blockbuster” products. However, the biochemistry and physiology of host cell systems play profound roles in the level of expression and fidelity of the recombinant protein and can determine the market effectiveness for potential biopharmaeuticals.
Research in the Dickson lab focuses on increased molecular understanding of industrially-relevant mammalian cell expression systems and how such information can be used to enhance the commercial viability of bioprocessing. In particular we seek to define how individual components within the pathway from gene to secreted biopharmaceutical interact to determine the effectiveness of an overall process. Our “systems-level” approach amalgamates basic aspects of gene expression and host cell physiology with the interaction between cells and their culture environment – ie bioprocessing from gene to production. Projects to engineer improved bioprocesses, many with strong links with industry, involve a wide range of molecular biological, cell biological and biochemical techniques and include:-
  1. Analysis of chromatin-level control of recombinant gene expression
  2. Molecular definition of stable cell lines
  3. ‘Omics characterisation of effective mammalian cell bioprocessing

In addition to his individual research portfolio, Alan Dickson is Director of the Centre of Excellence in Biopharmaceuticals (COEBP). The COEBP, initially funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the North West Regional Development Agency (NWDA) integrates the activities of the University of Manchester across basic and applied research linked to the biopharmaceuticals industrial and academic sector. Alan is also Co-Director (with Prof Mark Smales at the University of Kent) of BioProNET, a BBSRC Network in Industrial Biotechnology & Bioenergy, co-funded by EPSRC.


PhD OPPORTUNITIES Applications from excellent candidates for PhD or MPhil training are welcomed to work on several of the on-going projects in the Dickson laboratory. Your enquiry should indicate the research themes of greatest interest to you and should be accompanied by a brief CV.

APPLICATIONS NOW CLOSED BBSRC CASE 4 Year PhD studentship available with GSK "Manufacturing lentiviral vectors for gene therapies: Optimisation of cellular factories" Starting October 2017.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Biotechnology
  • Manchester Regenerative Medicine Network
  • Christabel Pankhurst Institute
  • Manchester Institute of Biotechnology


  • Biopharmaceuticals, Bioprocessing, Bioeconomy


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