VIB presents its yearly results and continues its growth as scientific center of excellence

24 April 2019
VIB is home to world-class researchers who are working across disciplines to tackle some of society’s major challenges. To translate VIB research even more effectively into societal benefits, the institute has launched new initiatives in addition to VIB’s proactive approach to technology transfer. This is why the Grand Challenges program was launched, a strategy through which VIB wishes to promote and support global, trans-disciplinary and multi-institutional collaborations with external partners. 

VIB presents its results in its 2018 annual report​ Below is a limited selection of achievements from the past year that will have a significant impact on our society.  

VIB on a mission: tackling Grand Challenges
Great science needs great minds, and these great minds need a stimulating environment to thrive. And what is great science if its results do not find their way to products and solutions that can help to solve some of the world’s challenges in healthcare and agriculture?This is reflected in the vision of VIB: pursuing breakthrough research in the molecular mechanisms of life which may lead to a better quality of life, economic growth and sustainable societal well-being. 

To strengthen the societal impact of its scientific advances, VIB has initiated the Grand Challenges program. Through the ‘grand challenges strategy’, VIB seeks to stimulate international, transdisciplinary, multi-institutional collaborations with external partners. In 2018, three projects were initiated within this program: a more rapid diagnosis of liver disease, fighting cancer with our body’s own immune system, and a better detection of primary immune deficiencies. 

Recently, three additional projects were selected, focused on the microbiome, Alzheimer’s disease, and arthritis. These projects will be launched during the course of this year.

Science meets science
To keep up VIB’s level of excellence, we attract the world’s most talented researchers and ensure that they have the best possible working environment. This environment entails far more than state-of-the-art tools and technologies; we are convinced that a diverse workforce contributes immensely to great science. The research results of 2018 seem to be a testimony to the success of this approach. VIB has taken great strides in all its research disciplines. We highlight just a few breakthroughs:
  • ​The Savvas Savvides group (VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research) used, in cooperation with the group of Sophie Lucas (de Duve Institute, UCL) crystal structures to show how GARP, a protein weaved through cell membranes, interacts with TGF-β1. The insights in the structure and mechanisms of the complex can be used in the development of treatments (for example, cancer immunotherapy) that are characterized by a changed TGF-β1 functionality and a dysfunctional Treg-activity (Liénart et al., Science, 2018).
  • The Jenny Russinova groep (VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology) identified the plant specific protein POLAR as a scaffold for an enzyme that controls the development of stomata. These stomata are essential for respiration, and thus survival and growth of plants. (Houbart et al., Nature, 2018)
  • The Jean-Christophe Marine group (VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology) applied single-cell RNA sequencing on malignant melanoma cells of human patients. The team identified various forms of therapy-resistant cells and how to decrease the presence of these cells. This study identified essential components of therapy-resistance in cancer and can contribute to therapeutic improvements. (Rambow et al., Cell, 2018)
  • The Stein Aerts group (VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease Research) compiled an atlas of the full fruit fly brain during the entire lifespan of the animals. This cell-level atlas contains almost all cells in the brain and provides tools to study cellular diversity through a unique, in-house developed platform, Scope. The results, together with the development of Scope, allow an exploration of the full brain during the aging process. (Davie et al., Cell, 2018)
Science meets technology
VIB scientists have access to the most advanced technologies on the market, even before they are commercially available. In 2018 VIB launched the ‘Single Cell Accelerator’. Through this initiative significant investments will be made to evaluate, develop, and integrate groundbreaking single-cell technologies in the institute. The Single Cell Accelerator program will allow VIB and its partners to quickly excel in the single-cell field of research.

Science meets business
Over the years, VIB has shaped the biotech ecosystem, not only in Belgium, but far beyond. VIB’s Innovation & Business team takes technology transfer to heart and explores all the possible avenues to bring research results to the market. They guide researchers every step of the way, be it by negotiating R&D agreements and licensing agreements with industry or by creating a new start-up company. VIB’s start-up record shows that it has been quite successful with 20 blooming young companies that employ 875 people and have attracted a total capital injection of 1.2 billion euros. The team has also attracted a good number of foreign companies to set up operations in Belgium. In 2018, Inari Agriculture and MouSensor have decided to establish business in Flanders. 

Science meets people
Great science cannot be accomplished without investing in people and their well-being, but it also leads nowhere if it is not communicated to a variety of stakeholders. In this area VIB is very active as well. In 2018, especially the CRISPR-ruling by the European Court of Justice caught the eye of the media. This ruling led plant biotechnologists in VIB to take the lead in a European-wide action to build awareness, addressing both the public at large and policy makers. In addition, VIB also showcased its research and tech transfer successes at several events, such as Biotech Day and the Supernova festival, Sound of Science, and the Dag van de Wetenschap (Day of Science). 

VIB in a nutshell
VIB is an independent non-profit research institute in different locations and a focus on trailblazing research in the life sciences. VIB scientists study the molecular mechanisms responsible for the functioning of the human body, plants, and micro-organisms. This research has led to insights into normal and pathological processes of life which can be used in the development of new therapies, diagnostics, applications, and technologies.
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.
Life sciences are a part of our daily lives. We cannot deny that our everyday activities are filled with science, even if that is not always clear to us. Scientific knowledge can improve the quality of life in both trivial daily activities and global social challenges such as healthy living and sustainable food production. This realization leads us to do great efforts in informing the public on our activities and tech transfer activities.

VIB in numbers
5 partner universities - 81 research groups
1 institute
76 nationalities – 1,717 collaborators

693 publications
249 publications in Tier 5 journals
102 PhD graduations

10 core facilities
40 Tech Watch project applications approved

Tech transfer
44.1 M€ industrial income
2 inward investments

Total income
45% Flemish government
55% other income

3,000 visitors to Biotech Day
1,808 participants at VIB conferences