Technology transfer is firmly embedded in VIB’s mission. The objectives are to translate our research into products for patients, farmers and consumers and, at the same time, to create new economic activity and new jobs. VIB provides significant support for the growth and development of the life sciences cluster in Flanders.
Thanks to its startups, the training of highly skilled knowledge workers, the partnerships with companies, the recruitment of international investments and the construction of facilities for biotech companies, VIB is a catalyst for the growth of the life sciences cluster in Flanders.
Beyond the traditional licensing to local companies (50% of our agreements are signed with companies residing in our region) and the establishment of local new companies, VIB has established a panoply of mechanisms to catalyze the biotech cluster in Flanders.
VIB provides structural and ad hoc support to many colleague technology transfer teams in Flanders and beyond. We encourage our researchers to join local industry, we build and exploit bio-incubators, we are actively involved in recruiting foreign companies to the regional cluster, and we have cofounded Flandersbio, the regional association for all actors in the field of life sciences.
Driving an innovative life sciences hub
An open and collaborative culture is conducive to innovation and creates important leverage for value and investments. To drive the international competitiveness of the life sciences ecosystem in Flanders, the most important factors are: leading-edge science and access to knowledge, availability of talent and skills, and affordable state-of-the-art lab and office space.
Knowledge and expertise from a research institute such as VIB is inspiring and forms the ideal breeding ground for innovation projects. Both young start-ups and international pharmaceutical companies find their way to the biotech clusters and to important partners to develop collaborations. At the same time, they can tap into the available talent and know-how. Over the years, several foreign biotech companies have set up businesses in Flanders, collectively investing 900 million euro in the region and creating direct employment for 690 people.
Growth of the Flemish biotech sector
When VIB was founded in 1996, there were fewer than ten biotech companies in our region. Today, there are more than 300 life sciences companies.
There is a healthy blend of established multinational companies, a strong league of quoted companies, and a continually increasing number of fast-growing private companies.
Willem Dhooge, co-managing director of flanders.bio:
"The sector thrives on fundamental research. VIB is one of the top biotech institutes in the world – a quality stamp that attracts major attention from fellow institutes, scientists from around the world and potential business partners. VIB covers university departments across Flanders and has a proactive collaboration strategy with other key research institutes in Europe. As a result, Flanders and all players active in its biotech ecosystem benefit from VIB’s reputation for excellent research.”
Standing on the shoulders of giants
Many factors have contributed to the success of the biotech cluster in Flanders, not least the region’s rich history of top researchers. Marc Van Montagu and Jeff Schell invented the first method to genetically modify plants. Walter Fiers was the first in the world to sequence a full gene and a full genome. Désiré Collen discovered one of the very first successful biotech drugs (tPA), Erik De Clercq and Rudi Pauwels developed most of the currently available anti-HIV drugs. Not forgetting Paul Janssen, one of the most prominent drug developers of the 20th century. It is on the shoulders of these giants that we have been able to found VIB and to sustain the high quality of biotech research, one of the essential building blocks of a strong cluster.
A second key contributor is Flanders’ openness to other cultures, an openness that is embedded in an even longer history. The Flemish academic and industrial biotech community employs scientists, entrepreneurs and managers from all over the globe. Equally, top investors from Europe, the US, Japan and beyond complement the regional investors; their experience of the Flemish biotech industry is of a rich ground for investments with an attractive internal rate of return.
The sustained support of the Flemish Government for biotechnology is another ace up our sleeve. There is a broad spectrum of tax and other incentives for biotech companies, including what is probably one of the most generous subsidy schemes for R&D activities and one of world’s most attractive tax incentives for patented products.
VIB is also taking its role as a catalyst for the regional cluster very seriously, and has been rolling out many initiatives. Along with spinning out startups that have been raising close to B€ 1,300, VIB is also turning out hundreds of trained people every year, many of whom go on to join the local biotech industry. Additionally, we signed hundreds of agreements with regional biotech companies, providing these companies access to novel technologies and products.
Specialized industrial biotech infrastructure
VIB also pioneered the exploitation of a first bio-incubator in the late 1990s. It currently provides, in several partnerships, more than 25,000 m² of specialized infrastructure to the industrial biotech community. The incubators are fully licensed to conduct biotech activities and are available for both local and international tenants in the life sciences sector.
VIB is still the full owner of certain bio-incubators, but was fortunate enough to find strong partners – such as the KU Leuven, AVEVE, and Life Sciences Research Partners – for the expansion of the incubator facilities. VIB also succeeded in bringing together a consortium of real estate companies (Foremost Immo and BSI) and investors (DGInfra+) who were willing to take the next step: the construction of a 12,000 m² Bio-Accelerator in Ghent.
The Bio-Accelerator is a business service centre for rapidly expanding biotech and life-science companies.
It offers laboratory facilities and offices with high level technical specifications and provides a range of shared services, fully fitted to the needs of the users. The Bio-Accelerator is situated in the Technology Park in Zwijnaarde near Ghent, a prominent technological development zone, amidst a cluster of bio-tech and life-science companies. Its location provides users with a unique opportunity for networking and know-how exchange enhancing development and growth opportunities. At the Bio-Incubator in Leuven, VIB provides space to companies working in the life sciences.
flanders.bio: the biotech sector organized
At the beginning of the 21st century, the number of biotech companies in our region started to rapidly increase. To capture the added value of a cluster, and in consultation with several captains of industry, VIB decided to launch flanders.bio in 2004. This association of all biotech actors from industry, academia and government now acts as the representative of this continually growing cluster. flanders.bio is building bridges between the major players, providing networking activities and representing the sector to the government and to the international community.
Recruiting international companies
As a cofounder of the association, VIB continues to actively collaborate with Flanders.Bio. In a further partnership with Flanders Investment & Trade and VLAIO, we have established a Flanders Life Sciences Welcome team, dedicated to helping foreign companies make a safe landing in Flanders. We have been able to strengthen the cluster by recruiting a growing number of international companies, such as Yakult, Argen-X and Biocartis to our region. The aim is to further increase these activities, to complement the endogenous growth with exogenous growth, further propelling our cluster to one of the top biotech regions in the world.