As a research institution, VIB can have the best infrastructure, the most sophisticated equipment and state-of-the-art technologies, but without our people, without their passion, energy, perseverance, work ethic and creativity, we are nowhere. That is why we want to ensure that our scientists and all who support them can work in a stimulating environment where everyone is treated with respect and understanding. Where people can develop their talents to boost their career. This vision also underlies the importance that VIB attaches to leadership; genuine people-oriented leadership, with attention to communication, a transparent feedback culture, career guidance, well-being and coaching.
Gender balance and diversity
VIB’s international recruitment policy ensures a continuous influx of the most talented people from diverse backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures. Such a diverse workforce brings a wide array of perspectives to the table, which stimulates out-of-the-box thinking and creativity.leaders in 2018).
In order to achieve a better gender balance, VIB has taken various initiatives in previous years that have paid off in 2019. One of these initiatives is the Gender Action Plan (GAP), which foresees in the recruitment of ten young female group leaders who receive funding for five years together with a career support package. In 2019, VIB managed to recruit ten female group leaders (out of twelve recruitments) of which 3 within the GAP. This momentum will be continued in 2020 to further increase the number of women in leadership positions.
With the recruitment of these ten female group leaders, the gender balance is moving in the right direction, i.e. 23% female and 77% male PIs (whereas we only had 15% female group
The aim of Training@VIB is to offer comprehensive training, workshops, and individual coaching to all VIB researchers and supporting personnel. In addition to scientific training, we are convinced that training in transferable skills is equally important. Therefore, the training offer consists of four distinctive areas: science, skills, bioinformatics and coaching/leadership.
Good internal communication and well-informed colleagues pave the way to creating enthusiastic VIB brand ambassadors. At VIB, we pay close attention to the needs of our people and we aim to build a close-knit VIB community. An important internal communication initiative that was launched in 2019 is the organization of so-called 'town hall meetings' in all VIB research centers, during which the general management informs all collaborators of the state of affairs of VIB.
VIB’s work in science communication is an important influence in shaping the public attitude towards the pioneering research at the institute. Public perception has a tangible impact on policy makers and misconceptions among the general public can quickly affect government policy.
Spreading the word on the work of VIB’s scientists and biotechnology applications is one of the organization’s key tasks. It has a dedicated Conferences & Outreach team that is responsible for communicating complex matters in a simple but scientifically based manner to a wide audience. This public engagement is important, allowing VIB to share its research, to inform and educate people, and to provide evidence to taxpayers that their money is being wisely invested.
Biotech Day 2019 was a great success. Over 4,000 visitors enjoyed a range of presentations and activities that provided a glimpse into the marvelous world of microbes. Researchers and companies from all over Flanders gathered at campus Arenberg, Leuven to give the general public a (sometimes literal) taste of the power and relevance of microbes.
The visitors were as varied as the topics and activities. Clearly, the interest in biotechnology is alive and well in Flanders. Both the many tastings and the experimental brewery were popular. The presentations, long and short, attracted an auditorium-filling audience, and the escape room captivated the attention of young and old.
Another event where VIB promoted its biotech research was the national Science Day. During this day scientists from all over the country explain how science and technology affect our daily lives. As is the case every year, VIB scientists were eager to contribute, with, for example, biotech quizzes, ketchup DNA, secret escape rooms, and much more.
Through the Facts Series, VIB’s communication team provides in-depth, but comprehensible information on various scientific topics. In 2019, two Facts Series brochures were completed that aligned closely with public and political interest: CRISPR-Cas genome editing in plants, and CRISPR-Cas genome editing in medicine.
To produce impactful science, scientists themselves also have to stay informed about the latest developments within and beyond their fields. Regular interaction and knowledge-sharing among the internationally dispersed scientific community is a key component of a scientific career.
VIB regularly organize conferences of international importance to give its members, as well as the scientific community as a whole, a fertile breeding ground for ideas and collaborations. The VIB Conference Series has had another successful year. With the help of the dedicated conferences team, over 2,100 scientists visited these conferences, which attracted significant industrial interest and corporate funding, with 93 companies sponsoring the VIB Conference Series.
Apart from the VIB Conference Series program, the conferences team also provided support for various VIB science events, which in total attracted 647 participants.
Faces of VIB
As a center of excellence, VIB’s primary focus is basic research: unravelling the molecular mechanisms that define health or disease. Over the years it has become apparent that translating scientific findings into concrete solutions or applications for patients and consumers leads to sustainable societal and economic impact. Many VIB researchers play a key role in this process and are happy to share how they experience their contribution to a better world.
Lien Van Hoecke: "During my PhD we developed an immunotherapy against cancer by provoking a specific kind of cell death (necroptosis) in cancer cells. After obtaining proof-of-concept results in experimental mouse models, we teamed up with the intellectual property team of VIB to file a patent. The collaboration with VIB-HQ went smoothly and I was closely involved with the patent filing process. This gave me the opportunity to learn about the complex world of intellectual property. Next, the VIB business development team made it possible start a research collaboration with eTheRNA. As a young researcher it is really cool that your research is of interest to a company that is already in clinical stage with their treatment.”
Sofie Goormachtig: “It gives great satisfaction to see that your basic science is turning into potential applications through a company that is steadily growing. The company has the means to execute aspects of the science that are not possible for us such as large-scale field experiments. These activities are complementary to our activities. It is highly interesting to get to know these last steps of the pipeline that are required to bring basic science into application.”
Robert Ciaran Prior: “As I come from a family with a demyelinating form of CMT, I had decided early on that I would join a CMT lab to contribute to the research. I joined Ludo’s lab after searching for quite some time for a CMT research lab where I felt the science was leading to a breakthrough. When I came across the HDAC6 inhibition therapeutic strategy implemented by Ludo and Constantin d’Ydewalle, I knew this would be big. Since joining the lab, I have worked amongst others trying to extend the therapeutic strategy to other forms of CMT, in particular the demyelinating forms of CMT. Additionally, I have been using induced pluripotent stem cells to help model the disease in a better manner. All this led to the establishment of Augustine Therapeutics. This is a very important chapter in my life, as I really believe that the therapy it has to offer patients with axonal forms of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) will be life-changing.”
Kenneth Verstraete: "So far, the collaboration between VIB and argenx has been very fruitful. For me personally – with a background in fundamental structural biology research – it is a unique and rewarding experience to be so closely involved in the different phases of the drug development process. Targeting pathogenic protein crystals with antibodies is a rather unconventional approach and this means we sometimes need to come up with novel and creative experiments. We have biweekly meetings with argenx where we discuss the progress in an open and collegial atmosphere as a single team. One of the major challenges right now is that mice do not possess a similar protein as human Galectin10, which makes the evaluation of the in vivo therapeutic efficacy in an animal disease model difficult. However, I am optimistic that we can overcome this challenge in near future."
Jeroen Aerts: “To tackle the challenges of the current generation of single-cell application and to stay on top of this fast-moving field, industry-academic collaborations are essential. That is why, if we want to stay at the forefront of the single-cell field, VIB and Janssen need to combine their expertise and join forces. Having access to the resources and expertise of Janssen Pharmaceutica and by sharing expertise, VIB can push forward the implementation and development of novel single-cell technologies in-house, boosting the research output of VIB scientists and stimulating future partnerships with industry.”
Jan Steensels: “Working with industry is mutually beneficial. For companies, this means extra exposure and linking their name to the VIB quality seal. For us, our industrial projects often attract a lot of media attention which can (and has) sparked new collaborations, attract students, build the lab's reputation… Industry collaborations can also lead to new 'fundamental' research projects, and we notice that companies that we collaborated with use our lab as a talent pool. So, being in a lab with a lot of industry contacts can be good for your future career. But, most of all, it is just fun to chat about science with people from industry, which in our case ranges from CEOs of mid-caps to the monks of the Trappist breweries.”
Rik Audenaert: “The economic impact study showed that excellent research and tech transfer activity, combined with a focus on cluster development, result in clear economic impact. The study – which was carried out by an external consultant – showed that for every € invested by the Flemish government 11€ flows back to the economy, creating 8,500 jobs in this region. The study also noted that the impact is increasing over time. The economic activity creates a return to government through social security contributions and taxes. This return is more than 4 times higher compared to the total investment of the government in VIB.”
Griet Vanpoucke: “VIB research is often considered too early-stage for investors or corporate partners to engage because the uncertainties are high. Therefore, we invest a lot of time working together with the VIB scientists in ‘de-risking’ their research results to compile a solid data and IP package backed by reproducible proof-of-concept data in relevant industry-standard models. Another challenge is to find the right management team. We’re looking for white ravens here: while the technology or invention is the foundation for a new venture, it’s the team that needs to turn it into a success. Being able to attract a great management team is the proof that we’ve done our homework properly in building a solid investment case! New ventures are an important way to translate the results of basic VIB research into applications and – eventually – novel medicines, diagnostics, or improved crops. Starting biotech companies in Flanders has a huge impact on the local ecosystem: not only do they attract significant investments to the region; they lead to direct employment in the biotech scene.”
Gabriele Bergers: "For me, the collaboration with Oncurious has been a very positive experience because it feels like a team effort with the common goal to successfully translate a conceptual strategy, supported by preclinical results, into the clinic. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of tumor micro-environment modulation will contribute to the overarching goal of developing new therapeutic approaches to boosting the immune system in tumors. This research may lead to a therapy that enables cancer-fighting immune cells to penetrate tumors and destroy malignant cells. We have regular interactive meetings with the company in which we exchange our progress, discuss challenges and try to find solutions to move to the next steps.”