Enhancing the societal impact of research

24 September 2019
In the first two decades of its existence, VIB has achieved remarkable productivity in both knowledge creation and translating this knowledge into societal and economic benefits through a professional process of proactive technology transfer.

Thanks to its current maturity, VIB can pursue new strategies to achieve the next level of value creation:
an extra layer of translational approaches to increase the societal impact of VIB research, building further
upon its formula of success: bottom-up research. To this end, VIB developed two translational initiatives. VIB Discovery Sciences, the focus of the previous edition of VIB News, which aims at ‘forward translational research’, translating VIB knowledge into applications by further de-risking the research assets beyond the ‘academic’ proof of concept, generated in the VIB research groups.

The VIB Grand Challenges Program (GCP) finds itself on the other end of the translational process. It is a program of reverse translational research and starts from the societal challenges to create new knowledge and opportunities, which will depend on multidisciplinary collaborations with skilled teams outside VIB (such as hospitals) to realize preset goals in delivering high impact solutions.

The projects are induced by ‘reverse’ translational questions and issues which are triggered in daily practice. They are developed ‘backwards’, starting from  the patient or crop and leading to new insights and applications. The projects involve an iterative process in which new observations are translated into testable hypotheses and validated solutions. Throughout the process, VIB expertise and enabling technologies are used with the aim to impact pertinent challenges in healthcare and agriculture, framed within the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

So far, there have been two institute-wide calls for projects. A third call has just been launched and this
round of selected projects will be announced in June  2020. The project applications are evaluated in a 2-step-procedure with involvement of both external scientific experts in the respective thematic domains and experts assessing societal impact potential, and a panel review.

The final purpose of the program is to contribute to a better future for the world and to leave a positive mark on society, help stakeholders to be, think, live better with VIB innovations, by thinking about  practical applications based on VIB’s research and excellence areas.

The goal is not just funding (societal and economical) value creation, but supporting innovative new approaches, addressing societal need gaps, and bringing the right solutions to the places where they are most
needed in a dialogue with all stakeholders.

Sofie Bekaert, Manager Translational Program & coordinator of the Grand Challenges Program

Picture on front cover: On March 17, 2019
researchers and clinicians involved in the PID
Grand Challenge Project welcomed 115 patients and their family at the VIB-UGent Research Building for an interactive morning program. The event was co-organized with Bubble ID, a PID fund from UZ Gent that wants to pierce the bubble of isolation that surrounds both the condition and the patients.