The building blocks of Cutting-edge biotech: how infrastructure drives VIB researchers and entrepreneurs forward

18 June 2018
​Though it may seem self-evident, access to adequate infrastructure plays a crucial part in VIB’s impact and stature. In recent years, modern facilities that are fully-equipped for top-notch science have allowed our researchers to advance their fields with international acclaim. And because leading-edge biotech is not just about science, we have also supported the creation of optimal environments for entrepreneurs. Despite these efforts, the need for additional infrastructure remains. That’s why multiple building projects are currently in the works.

On February 19 of this year, Flemish Minister for Work, Economy, Innovation and Sport Philippe Muyters laid the first stone of FSVM II, the new research facility that VIB and Ghent University are building at the Tech Lane Ghent Science Park in Zwijnaarde. Named after the Ghent biotech pioneers Fiers, Schell and Van Montagu, it will be connected to the existing FSVM I research building, bringing the total area of adapted infrastructure to 40,000 m².

“By investing in state-of-the-art infrastructure, VIB and Ghent University ensure that our researchers can continue to make important breakthroughs,” said Minister Muyters. “Their achievements are, after all, the reason that Flanders is internationally recognized for high-quality biotech research and a proactive approach to translating research results into economic and social added value.”

Building a thriving ecosystem
FSVM II will host the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology under the guidance of Nico Callewaert, which currently operates at various locations across the city of Ghent. VIB’s COO Wim Goemaere confirms the enormous potential of FSVM II: “Obviously, it will be much more efficient to work in one building equipped with all the necessary top-quality infrastructure. Both buildings will be interconnected to facilitate smooth interaction between the various research centers. We’re not just building a new facility, we’re working on a thriving ecosystem.”

Apart from direct investments such as FSVM II, VIB also supports its other partner universities indirectly by contributing funds for state of the art infrastructure. On the campuses in Leuven, Antwerp and Brussels, these resources have enabled construction projects that house the VIB research centers. Several new projects are under construction or in the pipe-line currently to ensure  the infrastructure remains up-to-date to allow our
researchers to stay in the front-line in their specific fields.

Fueling entrepreneurship
Because the creation of added value for the economy and society requires more than just scientific infrastructure, VIB has also made considerable investments to meet the needs of starting biotech companies and spin-offs. “

At the Tech Lane Ghent science park in Ghent, VIB has set up a bio-incubator and expanded it over the years,” VIB’s CFO Rik Audenaert explains. “Today, more than 6,000 m² are available for biotech entrepreneurs taking their first steps. More importantly, the bio-incubator is in the immediate vicinity of our own research departments, enabling close collaboration. In Leuven as well, a bioincubator with a total usable area of 9,000 m² was built together with KU Leuven and two industrial partners.”

More space needed
As both incubators are now fully occupied by young entrepreneurs, even more infrastructure will be needed in the coming years.

“Our long-term solution has to be twofold,” Rik Audenaert comments. “On the one hand, startups that have made considerable progress should be able to move on to other locations that offer more space, or even the equipment to start pilot production. In Ghent, several initiatives have already been kick-started by private investors. The biotech accelerator offers 18,000 m² and the recently developed Bioscape project adds another 10,000 m². But despite these initiatives that help biotech companies grow, we also need more space for start-ups.”

Projects in the pipeline
Luckily, VIB isn’t wasting any time responding to this need. In Leuven, plans are being worked out to provide another 3,000 m² to start-ups. But perhaps the most ambitious project in VIB’s pipeline is the brand-new headquarters that will be integrated in a soon-to-be constructed bio-incubator. The building, which is financed by VIB and the Flemish investment company PMV, will have a floor area of 12,000 m² and will be realized in the Tech Lane Ghent Science Park in Zwijnaarde on a site known as ‘Eiland’. Construction will start in 2019 and should be finished by 2022, first half.

Mathias De Clercq, first alderman in Ghent and chairman for NV Eiland Zwijnaarde: “VIB’s decision to build an additional incubator and to establish its headquarters at Tech Lane Ghent Science Park is of inestimable value to the Ghent region. VIB is a world-renowned research institute that has been the driving force for the development of an internationally renowned ecosystem for biotech and life sciences in Ghent and in Flanders over the past two decades.”

Eye-catcher along the motorway
Together with the recently announced bio-incubator of 10,000 m² at Tech Lane Ghent Science Park campus in Zwijnaarde, a total of almost 20,000 m² of extra space will be provided for start-up biotech companies. “This meets the large demand for adapted lab infrastructure in the Ghent region and enables the expansion of the life sciences cluster in Ghent,” CFO Rik Audenaert concludes. “Last but not least: the incubator that is to house our new head office will be a 10-story building at a strategic location along the E40 motorway. As a result, our new HQ is destined to be a real eye-catcher, thus making the importance of biotech in Ghent even
more visible. “

Go back to the overview on '20 years of value creation' 

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