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How Flanders injects the life sciences and medical world with innovative tech

By Filippe de Potter

For an innovative investment to pay off, the pieces of the research and development puzzle need to fall into place perfectly—especially in life sciences and MedTech.

In Flanders, the northern region of Belgium, you’ll find all the required ingredients: companies that adapt quickly and work together, academic institutions and research centres that support the ambitions of entrepreneurs, government agencies that think with and support the world of business in a hands-on way. It’s all available in a compact and dense knowledge network.

But don’t take our word for it—the proof is in the figures. In as recently as June 2021, Flanders’ R&D credentials were recognised in the European Commission’s European and Regional Innovation Scoreboards. Belonging to the top 11% of European Union regions, Flanders was ranked as ‘an innovation leader’. Belgium as a whole even came in fourth out of 27 EU member states—with an innovation performance well above the EU average. Let’s explore some of the driving forces behind these results.

Why innovating in/with Flanders is a smart move: Three reasons

1.            You’ll be in good company

What puts Flanders’ life sciences and MedTech landscape on the international map? Part of the answer lies in the accomplishments of local firms in bringing products to patients and creating attractive returns on investment. Companies such as Galapagos, ArgenX, Ablynx (Sanofi), TiGenix (Takeda) and Multiplicom (Agilent) are recognised worldwide for their success. Many started as university spin-offs, grew rapidly and have been acquired by foreign industry leaders.

Moreover, three of Flanders’ four strategic research centres are easily accessible to help turn life sciences and MedTech projects into practical applications. For starters, VIB focuses on biotech in all its facets and has been responsible for scientific breakthroughs in cancer research, immunology, medical biotech, etc. Meanwhile, imec specialises in nano- and digital tech, designing electronics for pharma, healthcare and other applications, all while providing access to leading e-health expertise. Finally, VITO concentrates on cleantech and domains such as sustainable health.

Take a virtual tour through Flanders’ life sciences & health ecosystem

Describing Flanders’ life sciences and health industry as diverse is an understatement. The entire value chain—from R&D and education to validation and commercialisation—is represented in the region. To guide you through the many opportunities this ecosystem offers, Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) has—literally—put it on the map: a 3D map.

This allows you to digitally visit hundreds of Flanders-based companies, universities, R&D centres, clusters, incubators, accelerators, service providers and other players that can help you boost your business and/or research.

Even more, you can book a virtual tour where one of FIT’s experts guides and talks you through the ecosystem personally via www.flanders360.com.

2.            You’ll work with incredible talent

In the Regional Innovation Scoreboard, one of the main indicators contributing to Flanders’ high ranking is the quality of its higher education. Virtually all of the region’s universities have strong life sciences departments that account for thousands of talented professionals every year. The University of Leuven has even been recognised as Europe’s most innovative by Reuters year after year since 2016.

What’s more, sector-dedicated talent programs also abound—and in 2022, a brand-new competence centre, called ViTalent, will open its doors as a training facility for jobseekers, students and employees in pharma and biotech. The talent development of your future workforce is in good hands.

Meet Team Vesalius, pioneering minds from Flanders

Since the days of Andreas Vesalius, the founder of modern human anatomy, Flanders has been on the forefront life sciences and health innovation. To this day, the spirit of this 16th century visionary lives on in the region. Capturing this pioneering spirit, Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) is happy to introduce Team Vesalius.

Consisting of contemporary scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs from Flanders who continue to push boundaries, the team includes the likes of:

o             Paul Stoffels, one of the most influential individuals in biopharmacy as well as the chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson

o             Peter Piot, a virologist and microbiologist best known for his pioneering research on Ebola and AIDS

o             Christine Van Broeckhoven, molecular geneticist and Alzheimer’s expert whose scientific research has received great acclaim, winning numerous international prizes

o             Annie Vereecken, a groundbreaking investor in young, successful biotech firms with early investments in Biocartis, Argenx, Ugentec and Cartagenia

Get to know all the members of Team Vesalius at www.teamvesalius.com.

3.            You’ll get vital support

In Flanders, the life sciences and MedTech industries are supported by rigorous financing and funding. Various capital providers as well as incubator and accelerator programs—including the likes of imec.istart and imec.xpand—give life sciences and MedTech entrepreneurs the chance to develop and commercialise their ideas and concepts.

Moreover, the government offers financial instruments to life sciences and MedTech players who want to boost their innovative efforts. Examples include:

•             An 85% innovation income deduction

•             An 80% withholding tax incentive on researchers’ income

•             An R&D tax credit/investment deduction of 13.5% of the investment value or 20.5% of the depreciation

•             special tax status for foreign executives and researchers

But the support goes even further. Flanders makes sure to boost cocreation projects where public, private and academic players join forces to innovate together. This is especially true for the region’s seven spearhead clusters, one of which is dedicated to life sciences and health: flanders.healthTech boosts collaboration among its members on themes such as personalised and digital medicine, efficient healthcare and groundbreaking care innovations. Will your organisation join in on Flanders’ innovative frenzy?

Ready to get innovative in Flanders?

Choosing Flanders means choosing innovation with peace of mind. You know in advance that you are entering a networked environment that breathes, embraces and takes innovation higher. Want to start operations or R&D activities in Flanders? Check out www.investinflanders.com or contact Flanders Investment & Trade via invest@fitagency.be.

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