Science-based business for economic impact

VIB’s Innovation and Business team guides the development of innovative research towards applications and products that benefit patients, farmers, and consumers. In 2019, the team continued its growth trajectory. On top of that, a marked acceleration occurred in terms of spin-off creation and high value deal-closing. Business development activities, such as R&D and license deals, generated the highest income ever:  21 M€. This record amount reaffirms VIB’s position as a business partner of choice and a source of innovation within the life sciences ecosystem.

These efforts do not only generate, but also increase, the economic and societal impact of VIB research in the local biotech ecosystem and beyond Flanders. An external economic impact study covering the past six years (2013–2018) provides an excellent illustration of this: for every 1 € of core funding from the government in Flanders, VIB generated an economic return of 11 €. In 2018, VIB activities contributed over 1 B€ to the global economy, with over two thirds of that number going directly into the economy of Flanders.    

Added economic value comes in many shapes: collaborations and strategic alliances with a multitude of companies, technology licensing, creating start-ups, creating incubator space, and attracting international companies and funds to drive investments towards Belgian life sciences industry.

In 2019, VIB spin-offs employed more than 850 people. These spin-offs have thus far generated over 1.27 B€ in equity investments, with at least an equal, non-dilutive amount secured through partnership agreements. Mergers and acquisitions deliver another substantial capital injection that contributes to the growth of the biotech ecosystem in Belgium.

VIB's patent portfolio

Patent applications are a parameter for innovation, and this illustrates the forward-looking nature of VIB research. In 2019, VIB’s IP team submitted 29 priority applications. VIB currently manages a patent portfolio of 234 active patent families, the majority of which are monitored in-house.  

Spin-offs for progress

The past year saw the birth of VIB spin-offs Augustine Therapeutics and Montis Biosciences.. Augustine Therapeutics, a spin-off from VIB and KU Leuven, is focused on the discovery and development of innovative therapeutics for patients with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) and other neuromuscular conditions. The company is rooted in the ground-breaking research of the VIB-KU Leuven lab of Ludo Van Den Bosch and from a collaboration between the labs of Joris de Wit and Bart De Strooper (both VIB-KU Leuven). A seed funding round of 4,2 M€ catalyzed the collaborative effort of VIB, KU Leuven, V-Bio Ventures and PMV, joined by Advent France Biotechnology (FR) and Gemma Frisius Fund.

Augustine Therapeutics is a great example of VIB’s approach to company co-creation with business partners and investors. In addition to providing capital, the investors remain involved in the startup’s day to day management. The VIB Discovery Sciences team is taking the lead in the preclinical development of the new therapeutics, while the founder VIB labs contribute to the biological understanding underlying these projects.

Montis Biosciences, founded by VIB, KU Leuven and Droia Ventures, is based on the research from the labs of Peter Carmeliet and Massimiliano Mazzone (both VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology). The novel spin-off’s mission is to investigate and therapeutically exploit interactions between perivascular macrophages and tumor vasculature, in order to drive and sustain immune reactions against solid tumors.

Seed funding of 8,4 M€ allows Montis Biosciences to progress towards clinical studies and expand its screening and assay platform to identify and validate additional promising targets. For the seed financing, the founders were joined by a strong international consortium of investors Polaris Partners (US), ALSA Ventures (UK) and Pfizer Ventures (US). For both Polaris and ALSA it is the first time that these funds invest in a Belgian-based biotech company.

Raising capital

In 2019, several VIB spin-offs have attracted financial investments to expand their activities and progress their research programs. With these investments, new product and therapy pipelines can be set up.

VIB spin-off Confo Therapeutics started in 2015 based on technology developed at VIB/VUB. Many stakeholders participated in a 30 M€ series A2 financing investment round, which was led by BioGeneration Ventures (NL) and Wellington Partners (DE). The company will use the acquired funds to accelerate its drug discovery activities and to develop compounds that modulate G-protein coupled receptors (GCPRs) to produce drug candidates for clinical trials.

VIB spin-off Biotalys (previously Agrosavfe) is a biotech-company that seeks to transform food protection with the ultimate goal of shaping a sustainable and safe food supply.   It generates a new generation of protein-based biocontrol solutions for key crop pests and plant diseases that can affect stages across the entire production chain. The products developed through their unique and versatile technology platform provide safe, sustainable and efficient protection for seeds, crops, and food. With 35 M€ of series C financing raised in 2019, Biotalys can upscale its efforts in developing, registering, and commercial production of its products. The first product is a biofungicide scheduled for a 2022 launch on the US fruit and vegetable market, rapidly followed by release in Europe and other regions. Early in 2020, Biotalys announced the second closing of its Series C financing round, bringing the total amount to 45 M€.

Collaborating with industry

One of VIB’s core missions is to advance its science to create benefits for patients, farmers and consumers. Being a research institute, VIB needs to partner with companies to accomplish that goal. In 2019, VIB concluded more than 180 agreements with industry and realized an industrial income of more than 24,6 M€ in total.

The research groups of Bart Lambrecht and Savvas Savvides (VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research) have found that the Charcot-Leyden crystals, highly abundant in airway mucus of asthma patients consist out of Galectin10 and stimulate the immune system in a particularly pathogenic manner. Together with the biotech company argenx, the teams developed antibodies that can dissolve these crystals and reduce key asthma symptoms. argenx and VIB are co-developing these ARGX-118 antibodies from lead to clinical drug candidate. 

The team of Xavier Saelens (VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology) has been able to provoke necroptosis in cancer cells with the protein MLKL – delivered by synthetic mRNA – and awaken an anti-tumor immune response. They teamed up with eTheRNA Immunotherapies, a Belgian biotech company specialized in mRNA technology to fully explore the possibilities of their finding.

The Jan Steyaert team (VIB-VUB Center for Structural Biology) developed an innovative plug-and-play technology to graft functional single domain antibodies on several scaffolds with diverse properties to build Megabodies, which are game-changing research tools for the high-resolution structure determination of molecules in solution. Confo Therapeutics, a VIB founded emerging drug discovery company, entered into an agreement with VIB for an exclusive, worldwide license to VIB’s ‘Megabody’ technology for applications on GPCRs.

This year also witnessed the commercial launch of new diagnostics based on VIB research.

At the world’s first Liver Glycomics Congress in 2019, the UK-based medical diagnostics firm Helena Biosciences announced the launch of the Glyco Liver Profile test. This novel diagnostic test for chronic liver diseases based on the analysis of serum proteins has been developed by the Nico Callewaert team (VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology).

The diagnostic license on MSI (microsatellite instability) markers from Diether Lambrechts lab (VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology) to Biocartis has led to a commercial launch of the Idylla™ MSI Assay for in vitro diagnostic use in colorectal cancer.

Drawing international attention

Flanders is a region well-known for its biotech expertise. More importantly, Flanders is equally well-known for its willingness to share this expertise. This combination of knowledge and collaborative spirit draws regular international attention of foreign companies looking to expand and establish local facilities. In 2019, VIB contributed to attracting three companies to establish bases in Flanders: StixFresh, Asylia Diagnostics and Handl Therapeutics.

Derisking to accelerate product development

VIB Discovery Sciences is a strategic initiative that mitigates the risk of setting off on the path towards the execution of translational projects, thereby increasing the success rate of translational research. Working closely with VIB group leaders, the VIB Cores, and external partners with complementary expertise they ‘derisk’ the initial stages of translational projects.

In 2019, the Discovery Sciences team was actively involved in a VLAIO project grant for Oncurious of close to 1 M€. In collaboration with VIB Discovery Sciences, Oncurious will continue the pre-clinical development of its pipeline of next generation cancer immunotherapies.

The new startup Augustine Therapeutics also benefits from a close collaboration with VIB Discovery Sciences, which is taking the lead in the preclinical development of new therapeutics.