A catalyst for the biotech economy

Thanks to its startups, the training of higly 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 red, green, white and blue biotech 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.

Growth of the Flemish biotech sector

Life Sciences Map   Life Sciences in Flanders   FlandersBio.png
When VIB was founded in 1996, there were fewer than ten biotech companies in our region. Today, there are more than 130 life sciences companies covering red, green, white and blue biotech. There is a healthy blend of established multinational companies such as Johnson&Johnson, Pfizer, Shire, Genzyme, AstraZeneca, Bayer and BASF, a strong league of quoted companies such as Thrombogenics, Ablynx, Galapagos, TiGenix and Devgen, and a continually increasing number of fast-growing private companies such as Remynd, Okapi, Actogenix, Complix, Biocartis, ArgenX, Multiplicom, Pronota and many others.

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 IRR.

Political support 

The sustained support of the Flemish Government for biotechnology is another trump card. 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 M€ 500, VIB is also turning out 200 trained people every year, many of whom go on to join the local biotech industry. Additionally, we signed around 400 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 K.U.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.

FlandersBio: 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 FlandersBio. This association of all biotech actors from industry, academia and government now acts as the representative of this continually growing cluster. Flandersbio 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 FlandersBio. In a further partnership with Flanders Investment & Trade, we have recently established a 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.