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VIB Tech Transfer takes research to private partners and beyond

As important as fundamental research is to new insights and discoveries, VIB is also committed to transforming those insights into real products, crops, medicines and therapies that improve lives. So, who is enabling those essential links between the scientists and businesses with the capabilities of taking VIB’s research results to the next level? That’s where the VIB Tech Transfer team comes into play. Jan Staelens, Business Development Manager in VIB’s TT team, describes why collaboration with industry is the key to real-life solutions, and gives us the scoop on how it’s done at VIB.

Scientists are excellent at what they do – excellent science. But what has to happen to take the information and discoveries that result from basic research and extrapolate it to develop tangible products with the power to change the world? Tech transfer is a key element of VIB’s overarching vision, and involves a blend of good science, good business and good communication to be successful.

Doing business and keeping scientists focused
A scientist by training, Jan has been with the Tech Transfer Team at VIB since 2008. The program forges fruitful, long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships between VIB projects and scientists on the one hand, and funders, nonprofits or private companies on the other. The program also takes the more business-focused responsibilities out of the hands of VIB scientists so they can pour all their attention into their projects.

Jan Staelens: “It’s an extremely multidisciplinary team here at Tech Transfer – we have people with backgrounds as diverse as pharma, life sciences, plant biotechnology and even veterinary science. It’s always useful to approach problems from different angles – that’s how innovation happens.”

And it’s not all about commercialization – two-way learning is also an important result. VIB can gain valuable insight into how to move projects forward from partner companies and organizations – 50% of which are Flemish, with the remaining half spread across the globe. And because the Tech Transfer team works closely with scientists and companies in many areas of life sciences, they really have to ‘know their stuff’ so-to-speak.

Jan: “We have to know what files everybody is working on, and we have to understand the science intimately. Most of these projects are incredibly focused, and it’s up to us to find the best link between companies, scientists and VIB projects.”

Launching the process of commercialization
Being up-to-date on current VIB projects gives the Tech Transfer Team the information they need to identify the right corporate partners. Sometimes, corporate partners contact VIB scientists directly to engage, or the Tech Transfer team connects with suitable companies in their network or at trade fairs and conferences. Once a good fit is found, it’s up to Tech Transfer to get involved in the process as early as possible and negotiate the agreements that will lead to collaborations

Jan: “The backbones of these projects are usually the deep understandings shared by the scientists on both sides. Of course, there has to be a good match with the project and the scientists involved, but the partner company has to have the ability to take the file toward commercialization. And trust between all parties involved is essential for a successful collaboration.”

Even though a project looks promising and the corporate partner is a great match, it’s never easy to get
a good grip on the project’s potential at such an early stage. Attrition can be very high, especially in drug discovery, but taking these risks is the only path to those world-changing medicines and therapies.

VIB Discovery Sciences enables translation towards product development with
Biopontis

VIB Tech Transfer kick-started VIB Discovery Sciences recently to enable scientists to engage in early drug discovery projects based on scientific breakthroughs. A recent example of such a project is run with Biopontis, a nonprofit, charitable alliance with the objective of treating an ultra-rare disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

This project is based on scientific insights generated by the lab of Albena Jordanova and supported through the VIB Discovery Sciences team. The nonprofit has an excellent relationship with patient organizations and is closely connected to patient needs. Both sides bring science and expertise together with the long-term aim to identify an innovative drug development avenue for CMT.

VIB and ALK: working together for the long haul
VIB’s strategic alliance with Danish pharma company ALK is a good example of a long-term collaboration. Both ALK and VIB have deep expertise in allergy immunotherapy, and the goal of the alliance is to learn together, contribute together and build relationships while working together on different allergy immunotherapy projects.

Jan: “VIB’s resident allergy expert, Bart Lambrecht, is extremely visible in the scientific community, and this also attracted the attention of ALK. The alliance between ALK and VIB is focused less on developing a very specific product right now and more on fostering this great contributive relationship. It’s a very early collaboration with no intellectual property involved; we’re together to teach and learn from each other – another key element of tech transfer.”

Questions or eager to find out more?
Please contact Jan Staelens at jan.staelens@vib.be or +32 9 244 66 11.