VIB addresses grand societal challenges

13 October 2016
On the occasion of its 20th anniversary, VIB reveals its strategy for the future

As of next year, VIB will launch a number of new initiatives to increase its focus on translating research results into relevance for society. This was also the main message during the event ‘SCIENCE MEETS LIFE’, a symposium showcasing that top-class research in life sciences can have a vital impact on our society. This symposium was organized on the occasion of VIB’s 20th anniversary. The new strategy will be part of the new management agreement between the Flemish government and VIB, which will be effective from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2021.

VIB received a positive evaluation after the 5-year audit conducted on behalf of the Flemish government. External scientists and consultants reviewed VIB’scientific, economic and societal impact.

Jo Bury and Johan Cardoen, managing directors of VIB: “With our new ‘beyond borders’ strategy, we want to further improve on the essence of a strategic research center: enhancing its impact on society”. We all face big challenges and these deserve the necessary focus, also from the research community. These challenges cover research into healthy living and ageing, but also into sustainable food production. We will embark on additional initiatives to increase VIB’s impact on society.”

Flemish Minister Philippe Muyters: “Over the last twenty years, VIB has proven its focus on excellent results with an added value for our citizens and our economy. As a result, I have great faith in the institute’s ambitious plans for the future. The focus of VIB’s strategy for the future is translational. It’s about translating knowledge into value for society; and as such, making sure that innovation leads to growth and more jobs. I fully support this strategy and I’m convinced that this will take the dynamic Flemish biotech industry to another level.”

New strategy: breaking boundaries to address the grand societal challenges
Combining excellence in life sciences research with excellence in technology transfer has been VIB’s credo over the last 20 years. It has enabled VIB to become a key player in the biotech sector worldwide, demonstrating that basic research can in effect add value to the economy as well as to society in general. “But we are also aware of the fact that our research could contribute even more to society by breaking boundaries. And this is exactly what we plan to do to help address the grand societal challenges”, say Bury and Cardoen.

Focus on translational research
To truly have an impact, we also have to invest in translational research. For the moment, this is often the missing link in the process to ensure that the discoveries made in VIB’s laboratories can be translated into applications such as medicines and agricultural innovations, in the quickest and best possible way. Those developments are crucial for maintaining the wellbeing and health of human beings and for achieving sustainable food production for an ever-increasing population. As a part of this strategy, VIIB recently established VIB Discovery Sciences, which consists of a team of experts from the sector focusing on translating scientific insights into benefits for society. But VIB will take some additional steps to further optimize this process.

Value creation is essential
By setting up businesses and attracting foreign businesses (inward investment), VIB succeeds in creating added value for society in the form of new jobs and new products. VIB’s 18 start-ups together with companies that have come to Flanders under the impulse of VIB, currently employ 1,150 people. VIB start-ups have already generated 930 million euros of investment, more than half of which comes from foreign capital investments. For this reason, VIB is often regarded as an example by many European top institutes when it comes to creating value from research. 

Johan Cardoen: “Pursuing this successful strategy in challenging times requires additional efforts. This is why we decided to set up V-Bio Ventures, an ‘early stage’ investment fund.”

A positive outlook on the future
VIB will continue to invest in its researchers, to provide the most advanced technologies and to proactively translate results into applications that benefit society. After all, our ambition is to globally consolidate our position at the top in our eight research fields: neurobiology, cancer biology, inflammation, medical biotechnology, translational neuroscience, plant systems biology, structural biology and molecular microbiology.
According to Bury and Cardoen “Proper support for leading research in these fields equips us to face the grand societal challenges”,

Philippe Muyters
©VIB-Ine Dehandschutter