VIB has been around for only 20 years, but in that time, it has become a household name within the international life sciences sector. Of course, this would not have been possible without a pool of very talented researchers.  That is why VIB launched the Alumni Award in 2017: to honor some great scientists who once worked for VIB. This award recognizes outstanding leadership and excellent scientific achievements of VIB alumni with significant societal impact. 

Out of 14 candidates, nominated by VIB employees and alumni, the VIB Alumni Board preselected three candidates. A jury of four distinguished emeriti – Marc Van Montagu, Désiré Collen, Joël Vandekerckhove and Hugo Van Heuverswyn – together with guest jury member Maggie De Block, Belgian Federal Minister of Public Health, sifted through the nominations following stringent criteria.

They quickly reached a unanimous decision. 

Runners-up were Idoya Lahortiga, former post-doctoral scientist, and Emmanuel Buys, former PhD student.

Idoya Lahortiga founded Somersault 18:24 in July 2015 alongside Luk Cox (also ex-VIB) with a mission to help scientists, publishers, and biotech companies to communicate effectively through scientific visualizations. Public understanding and awareness of science are improved through effective communication, and Idoya has helped numerous renowned clients – including current VIB PI’s – with this.

Emmanuel Buys followed his science from basic academic research, which brought him to Associate Professor positions (in Anesthesiology and Ophthalmology) at Harvard Medical School, to translational clinical research in his present position in Biotech ((Ironwood Pharmaceuticals), discovering and developing drugs that are aimed to cure rare and severe diseases based upon the target validation of his academic work.

But the winner of the second VIB Alumni Award was Lothar Steidler.

“Lothar Steidler was never afraid to operate at the frontline of technology in a very competitive international environment with high risks, not only due to several unknown factors in his science, but also because of the vast economic and financial challenges. Therefore, Steidler, who co-founded Actogenix, one of VIB’s spin offs, in 2006, absolutely deserves this award”, says prof. emeritus Joël Vandekerckhove, one of the jury members.

The award was presented at the VIB General Assembly on 24th April 2019 in Leuven. Dr. Steidler also addressed the VIB researchers during the VIB Seminar in Veldhoven (the Netherlands) on 25th April 2019 on the societal impact of the ActoBiotics® drug delivery platform.

“We are delighted to present this award to Dr. Steidler, who has been, and continues to be, an inspiration to many VIB scientists. His research formed the basis of an internationally renowned company with a highly innovative and flexible technology. Their products, ActoBiotics®, target a range of diseases with no current cure and there are applications for many more such diseases in preclinical testing. We are proud that this important research with such broad societal impact has come from our institution and wish Dr. Steidler and everyone at ActoBio Therapeutics™ the greatest success for the future,” states Lieve Ongena, Senior Science Policy & International Grants manager at the VIB.

“I am honored to have been granted this prestigious award,” replies Lothar Steidler, PhD, Chief Technology Officer of ActoBio Therapeutics™ upon hearing that he will receive the Alumni Award. “At the start of this journey, being a post-doctoral fellow at VIB and the University of Ghent, I could only dream that my discovery would lead to what is now an innovative therapeutic delivery platform. Multiple products are currently undergoing clinical trials for various diseases with unmet needs, such as type 1 diabetes and oral mucositis. I am very fortunate to have been able to pioneer a technology that could impact so many people across the world, and gratefully accept this award. My thanks go to the VIB Panel for their recognition, as well as to all the people I have worked with throughout the years, without whom this achievement would not have been possible. Special thanks go to Pieter Rottiers, Sabine Neirynck, Karolien Van Huynegem and Klaas Vandenbroucke who have been my partners in crime during most of this exciting adventure.”