VIB presents its 2017 annual results and confirms its reputation as global player

19 April 2018

VIB is home to world-class researchers who are working across disciplines to tackle some of society’s major challenges. In eight thematic research centers, VIB creates opportunities for knowledge pooling which leads to inspiring collaborations between scientists within the centers and beyond. VIB’s proactive approach to technology transfer engages its researchers to convert their research results into concrete, marketable “products”.

VIB presents its results in its 2017 annual report.  Below is a limited selection of implementations from the past year that will have a significant impact on our society. 

Measuring the impact of VIB’s science
VIB aims to belong to the world top in the life sciences disciplines it represents. That is why VIB attracts the best scientists worldwide and gives them access to disruptive technologies and state-of-the-art lab facilities.

Based on the citation impact of its research VIB and VIB scientists regularly show up in the top league of international life sciences institutes based on the impact of its research. In plant research VIB ranks second among other institutes and in the biomedical field, VIB is in fourth position. In addition, international peer review panels consider the impact of VIB research to be leading.

Influencing European policymakers
VIB is one of the founders of EU-LIFE, an alliance of top research centers in life sciences in Europe. EU-LIFE took several measures to weigh on European science policy, to build competence and awareness and, ultimately, to boost scientific collaborations. One of the alliance’s main achievements in 2017 is the FP9 position paper, in which EU-LIFE defines the key priorities for the next Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.

A selection of the 2017 results  
Science meets science
VIB researchers belong to the highest division in their discipline (cancer biology, brain research, research into inflammation and infection, plant systems biology, medical biotechnology, structural biology and microbiology). Scientific research at VIB is continuously benchmarked with the work of leading experts in a variety of subdomains in institutes for biosciences worldwide. 

The examples from 2017 below give an idea of the impact of VIB’s research:

  • VIB scientists have managed to unravel the functioning of what is thought to be the ‘master protein’ that drives a range of common allergic diseases, such as asthma and eczema. Their insights into this protein, which is called TSLP, enabled the team to develop a new molecule that can block TSLP activity. This holds great promise
  • VIB scientists have discovered an essential mechanism in the spread of cancer. They found that reducing the glutamine levels of macrophages, a particular type of white blood cell often responsible for supporting tumor growth, changes the macrophages’ behavior. Instead of supporting cancer, the macrophages change back into ‘good’ cells and fight the disease. These groundbreaking findings potentially offer new strategies for immunotherapy.
  • Tau proteins are associated with more than twenty neurodegenerative diseases, including various forms of dementia. These proteins clump together in patients’ brains to form neuronal tangles: protein aggregation that eventually coincides with the death of brain cells. VIB researchers have discovered how tau disrupts the functioning of nerve cells, even before it starts forming tangles. The researchers immediately suggested a way to intervene in this process.
  • VIB researchers have discovered a gene that significantly increases plant growth and seed yield in maize. Research into crop yield is crucial because of the increasing incidence of extreme weather conditions affecting agriculture. The results from laboratory research were confirmed during two-year field trials conducted in Belgium and the United States which showed that this gene can increase seed yield in maize hybrids by 10 to 15%.

Science meets business
These disruptive findings only serve a purpose if they are developed further and transferred to the marketplace. This is the role of VIB’s Innovation and Business unit, which had an extremely productive year in 2017. In addition to realizing a record industrial income of 28.7 million euro, the team concluded the establishment of a new start-up: Aelin Therapeutics, for which 27 million euro was raised in an “A” round. Furthermore, VIB entered into multiple license agreements with industry to further develop VIB discoveries, including strategic partnerships with Galapagos and Denali Therapeutics.

Science meets technology
As technologies continue to evolve, research methods follow suit. New technological solutions often require expertise and skills far beyond what one center, let alone one research group, can provide. This is exactly why VIB invests heavily in its Tech Watch program and in state-of-the-art Core Facilities.

In 2017, VIB created the ‘Technology Innovation Lab’ to increase the uptake of innovative breakthrough technologies within the research centers. Two dedicated life sciences specialists provide hands-on support in the lab to lower the threshold for scientists to implement these technologies in their research projects.

Science meets people
Communicating effectively about VIB’s research to broader, non-scientist audiences helps to build support for science. It promotes understanding of its wider relevance to society and encourages more informed decision-making at all levels, from policymakers to communities and individuals. In addition to assisting researchers in getting media attention for their breakthrough research, VIB creates various opportunities for scientists to engage with the public, whether by teaching schoolchildren, giving lectures to various audiences, using social media or actively recruiting the public to participate in research. Some of the major projects in 2017 were the VIB Matinee as apotheosis of the Biotech Tour in the Flemish Parliament, Biotech Day that welcomed 4350 visitors in Ghent, active participation in Day of Science and international scientific conferences highly appreciated internationally.

VIB in a nutshell
Basic research in life sciences is VIB’s raison d’être. VIB is an independent research institute where some 1,500 top scientists from Belgium and abroad conduct pioneering basic research. As such, they are pushing the boundaries of what we know about molecular mechanisms and how they rule living organisms such as human beings, animals, plants and microorganisms.

Based on a close partnership with five Flemish universities – Ghent University, KU Leuven, University of Antwerp, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Hasselt University – and supported by a solid funding program, VIB unites the expertise of all its collaborators and research groups in a single institute.

VIB’s technology transfer activities translate research results into concrete benefits for society, such as new diagnostics and therapies and agricultural innovations. These applications are often developed by young start-ups from VIB or through collaborations with other companies. This also leads to additional employment and bridges the gap between scientific research and entrepreneurship.

Mission and vision
It is VIB’s mission to conduct pioneering biomolecular research in life sciences, to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of life and to translate our research findings into products and solutions that benefit society.

We are convinced that breakthrough research in the molecular mechanisms of life will lead to a better quality of life, economic growth and sustainable societal well-being.

VIB in numbers
721 publications
236 publications in Tier 5 journals

10 Core Facilities
32 Tech Watch projects applications approved

1 new start-up
28,7M industrial income
Tech Transfer

5 partner universities - 75 research groups
1 institute
66 nationalities – 1.508 employees

48% Flemish government
52% other income
Total income

4.350 visitors to Biotech Day 
10.322 youngsters in educational projects
Informing the public