Going beyond borders to take VIB research to new heights

2 January 2017
Since it was established over two decades ago, VIB has dedicated itself to groundbreaking basic research in life sciences. Relentless acquisition of the world’s most promising talent and pursuit of pure science has propelled it to its current position as a world-leading life sciences knowledge center. We had a talk with Jo Bury and Johan Cardoen, our Managing Directors.

From the start, it was clearly stated that VIB was not going to be ‘another granting body’. Why was it so
important to point that out?
Jo Bury: “Because we wanted to do more than just hand out money. Our goal was to have a real impact on the research and its results by developing a clear vision and a strategic policy for the long term. That meant building an environment with core facilities, a place where top scientists can thrive. We decided to invest in people, not in projects.”

Clearly a good strategy, since VIB is now at the top. The next challenge is staying there. How hard is that?
Jo: “World-class science is a moving target. We have to set the bar higher every day. That’s precisely what we do, but it requires tons of creativity on a continuous basis. VIB does not aim for low hanging fruit. We want to publish revolutionary findings. We want the next big breakthrough.”

VIB has prepared a strategic plan for the future, can you elaborate?
Johan Cardoen: “VIB’s research is focused on two primary needs of humankind: healthy living and sustainable food production. Combining basic research and tech transfer has always been our way to respond to these needs. Now we want to take it a step further by facilitating translational research. If you want companies to invest in research, you have to decrease the potential risks by further developing the science, through clinical testing or breeding experiments, for example. In order to achieve this, we have launched a strategic initiative
called VIB Discovery Sciences.”

Jo: “Translational research requires expertise that VIB doesn’t have today, so we have to strengthen interdisciplinary collaboration. Our recent strategic alliance with ILVO, which brings basic research and applied field knowledge together, is a prime example. It’s no coincidence that the strategic plan is titled Beyond Borders.”

Johan: “With no borders, boundaries or frontiers, the sky is the limit. The next five years will be filled to the brim with exciting evolutions that enable VIB to bring science and society ever closer together. From internal changes that result in a greater efficiency, a stronger brand and more accessible technologies, to external initiatives including new partnerships and initiatives that zero in on tech transfer and translational science, our multifaceted strategy at VIB aligns to target the achievement of one crucial overarching goal: the significant
betterment of life.”

VIB grand challenges
Truly translational life sciences research requires a multidisciplinary approach and the involvement of many different players, from scientists and institutions to hospitals and farmers. Single research groups – and even large scientific institutions – rarely have all of the resources, knowledge and technologies needed to tackle
research challenges from all angles and transform results into useful societal benefits. Collaboration is key, which is why VIB has developed the VIB Grand Challenges program. Through VIB Grand Challenges, VIB seeks
to stimulate global, transdisciplinary, multiinstitutional collaborations with external partners. Joint efforts with hospitals and clinics, for example, open up a wide range of benefits for everyone involved, from access to new therapies to research insights that can be immediately used to help people. Partnerships with agriculture companies give scientists access to land and industry expertise, with results leading to solutions to real agricultural problems with the potential to resonate worldwide.

Despite addressing grand challenges, the program will be funded from the bottom-up, with center leaders proposing projects that are selected by a high-level, transparent governance group.

Jo Bury and Johan Cardoen, our Managing Directors.
©VIB-Ine Dehandschutter