Life sciences in Belgium: Flanders as biotechnology hotspot thanks to government investments
Although Flanders is only a dot on the world map in terms of size and population, the region has a world reputation when it comes to biotechnology. Almost ten percent of the industry is related to the bioeconomy, accounting for five percent of employment.
The Flemish biotech sector is strong internationally, with many biotech pioneers and the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (FIB) as a world-renowned research institute. The institute, which focuses on pioneering, strategic basic research in the life sciences, was founded in 1995. Since then, it has worked closely with the five universities in Flanders: Ghent University, Catholic University of Leuven, Antwerp University, Brussels Free University and Hasselt University.
Scientists working for the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology study the molecular mechanisms that determine the functioning of the human body, plants and micro-organisms. This research leads to innovative insights into normal and abnormal life processes, which can then be used to develop new therapies, diagnostics, agricultural applications and technologies.
Over the past 25 years, the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology has been able to count on the continued financial support of the Flemish government, which has led to it being recognised today as a leading knowledge centre for life sciences and biotechnology, with an excellent reputation in the field of technology transfer.
In addition, Flanders has for years been home to the largest R&D hub for plant biotech. Bayer, BASF and Syngenta are examples of large companies active in the region. Flanders also has a lot to offer in the field of industrial biotech, which uses modern biotechnology for the industrial production and processing of chemicals, materials and energy. A good example is the Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant, which among other things develops and optimises bio-based processes using different technologies, from fermentation and biocatalysis to green chemistry, up-stream and down-stream processing.
Top of Europe
In just over a quarter of a century, Flemish biotech companies have risen to the top of Europe. A mix of scientific talent and entrepreneurial spirit got the flywheel turning, with a boost from the government. Not only with the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology did the Flemish government boost the biotech sector. In the past decades, Biotech Fonds Vlaanderen has also played a crucial role in the further development of the Flemish biotech sector.
Flanders is home to companies such as Ablynx (nanobody technology), Actogenix (biological medicines), Biotalys (biological pesticides), Complix (Cell Penetrating Alphabody technology), Cropdesign (plant phenotyping technology), Devgen (food crops), Galapagos (small molecule medicines), Innogenetics (healthcare) and Movetis (gastrointestinal disorders), companies that, thanks to investments made by the former Biotech Fonds Vlaanderen, got the sector off the ground.
Through the Fund, which was established by the Flemish government in 1994 to stimulate biotech in Flanders, companies could count on government support of around 90 million euros. In 2015, the Biotech Fonds Vlaanderen merged into the Participatiemaatschappij Vlaanderen NV, an independent investment company founded by the Flemish government. Since then, the sector has continued to grow, proving that Flanders can hold its own in a future-oriented and high-tech niche.
© BELGA PHOTO JONAS ROOSENS