Good to know 3: compelling ERC facts

12 March 2017

​Rooted in the marie curie program
Under the seventh Framework Program (FP7), active from 2007 until 2013, the ‘Marie Curie Excellence
Grants’ – also known as EXT grants – aimed at junior group leaders wanting to start up their own research
groups in European countries. This was the first time that EU funding was dedicated to ‘single’ excellent PI’s.

While these excellent grants were only available for Junior PI’s, the size was very similar to the current ERC
Starting grants. However, they came with a mobility requirement: Junior PI’s had to start their own lab in
another European country, more specifically in the institute most appropriate to their needs. Because this
program focused on excellent research, VIB supported a number of senior postdocs abroad to take this
opportunity and move their research team to Belgium: Nico Callewaert (from ETH Zürich to the VIB-UGent
Center for Medical Biotechnology) and Patrik Verstreken (from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston to
the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease Research). It paid off: both scientists were able to attract
subsequent ERC Starting and/or Consolidator grants, and even became directors of their research centers.

The multiplier effect
VIB and ERC share common goals: to give excellent researchers the necessary tools to carry out world-class
research and to fill important knowledge gaps through bottom-up long term funding. This unique funding
principle proved to be very rewarding: ERC funding allowed VIB researchers to take a big leap forward and
to start up game-changing research programs. As a result, ERC programs resulted in 200 published papers,
with several contributions in Nature, Cell, Science and other top journals in life science fields such as Cancer
Cell, Neuron, Nature Immunology, Plant Cell, Nature Structure & Molecular Biology and many more. With
over 6.000 citations to these papers to date, ERC projects are highly visible in the academic world. And it
goes beyond academia: not only did we obtain 5 additional ERC Proof of Concept grants, but we were also
able to file 14 patent applications and sign several industrial agreements resulting in further translation of
the research outcome into applications.

Bottom-line: much more than a funding vehicle, ERC proves to be a multiplier. It leads to increased visibility
based on breakthrough papers, creates room for patentable inventions and generates increased interest
from industry. As many of these projects started just a few years ago, we can expect an increasing impact
in the years to come.

One plus one equals three
Several European centers of excellence carry a double (or even multiple) affiliation. This results from a
strategic choice between two or more organizations to collaborate with the aim of creating a better research environment. In this way, individual PI’s have access to the necessary tools to make groundbreaking discoveries. That is precisely why VIB was created in 1996 as a joint venture with the Flemish universities, with a clear impact on the research quality after 20 years.

After 10 years of ERC, the ‘ERC grant’ clearly became a label of excellence: it puts PI’s in the spotlights. In
addition, the number of ERC grants per institute is a recognition of the quality of universities and institutes involved. Although ERC grants are administratively managed by VIB, the prestige of the grant also shines on the hosting university. That’s why we always mention both the affiliations – VIB and the university – of the ERC grantee and its outcome in our communications.

​Go back to the overview '10 Years European Research Council'