Why flanders

Innovation Ecosystem

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Over the years, Flanders has built strong academic roots, with different academic research groups and research centers that excel in life sciences. The science parks and dedicated incubators provide all the necessary facilities and services to starters and expanding biotechnology companies. Flanders houses over 300 life sciences organizations and is closely connected to unique high concentration of bio-pharmaceutical companies. The important AgBiotech cluster brings together world leaders in agricultural and plant biotechnology, and an emerging biobased industry cluster stimulates new investments in this important area.


Universities and academic hospitals

Flanders has a strong academic basis; the first university was founded in 1425 (KU Leuven). Today Flanders counts 5 universities and 4 academic hospitals. Flanders innovation ecosystem is build on strong academic foundations. The government invested in high-performant research centres, collaborating with worldwide industry partners. Dedicated science parks and incubators offer biotechnology SMEs a broad range of facilities. The unique concentration of pharmaceutical companies, AgBiotech cluster and emerging bio-based industry makes Flanders best in class. 

  • KU Leuven and UZ Leuven 

  • UGent and UZ Gent

  • UA and UZA

  • UHasselt

  • VUB and UZBrussels

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Research centres

Flanders counts several research centers, in different areas. Those relevant to life sciences are listed underneath. They all have strong academic roots and collaborate intensely with national and international industries.  

  • IMEC – founded in 1984 – focusing on nanotechnology, counts 3.500 employees. Headquarters are located in Leuven. Merged with iMinds in 2016.

  • VITO – founded in 1991 – focusing on environmental salutation, with 750 employees. Headquarters are located in Geel.

  • VIB – founded in 1996 – focusing on life sciences, with 1.600 employees. Headquarters are located in Gent. 

  • Flanders Make – founded in 2014 – is the strategic research center for the manufacturing industry, and build a strong research network with academic research groups and SMEs.  Headquarters are located in Lommel.

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Science parks and bioincubators

Flanders’ science parks house state-of-the-art bio-incubators and accelerators providing ideal facilities to set up a startup company and grow into the next phase. Facilities include air-conditioned laboratories, conforming to bio-safety Class 2 activities – and a high flexibility for changing offices to lab space and vice versa, incubator and cold rooms, separated air purifier and drainage of water, wet space and common facilities.

Incubators and accelerators are available at different locations:

VIB offers dedicated services and core facilities at different locations throughout Flanders, including sequencing and genotyping, proteomics analysis and protein production and purification. 

Flanders continues to expand research activities and develop new science parks to accommodate the needs of the different companies, from start-up to late stage ventures.

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Biotech companies

Flanders has a strongly developed life sciences industry, with 304 organizations providing for more than 76.000 indirect en more than 19.000 direct jobs. 50% of those organizations have R&D activities, 28% has production activities and 22% are dedicated competence providers. Flanders counts more than 100 additional technology providers.

The Flemish life science companies are active in healthcare, agro and bio-based applications.

FlandersBio connects the different life sciences organizations and supports this dynamic life sciences community through networking, direct services and advocacy to stimulate the growth of the sector and deliver long-term economic and social benefits in the region.

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Pharmaceutical companies

The high concentration of bio-pharmaceutical companies located in Flanders or in close proximity to Flanders is unique. Janssen Pharmaceutica (J&J), Pfizer, GSK vaccines, UCB, Roche Diagnostics, Novartis, Sanofi and Amgen can be found within a 1 hour drive. This focused biopharma network is a strong driver of collaborations between the different academic and industry organizations.

In addition to headquarters and manufacturing facilities, different companies established important R&D centers or organize clinical trials. The biopharmaceutical industry accounts for 7.8% of the total Belgian expenditure on R&D.

Although Belgium represents only 2,6% of the European GDP, Belgian biopharma takes up 7.8% of the expenditure on R&D and continues to be a major driver of economic activity and R&D investments. Belgian expenditures on biopharma R&D continue to grow:

Source: Pharma.be 2015

Biopharma R&D investments are high, compared to other European countries. The in-house expenditures on R&D in the pharmaceutical industry (as % of total of the company sector) amount to:

Source: Pharma.be

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AgBiotech cluster

Initiated by Prof Van Montagu and Prof Shell at the University of Gent, Flanders has evolved into one of the most important global Ag-Bio clusters.  Plant Genetic Systems, the first Ag-biotech company worldwide, was established as a spin-off of the Van Montagu lab in 1982. 

Today, Flanders is home to Syngenta and Bayer – with strong embedded R&D centers – and the fruitful collaborations with local academic centers such as VIB enhance R&D-investments and resulted already in several spin-offs.

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Emerging biobased industry cluster

The government of Flanders together with industry continues to invest in innovation and building expertise. The biobased industry is an emerging area and a solid knowledge base is developed through the investments in ‘Bio Base Europe’, Europe’s first education and open innovation center for the biobased economy. This unique partnership between Flanders and the Netherlands resulted in a state-of-the-art research and pilot plant located in Flanders and a training facility in the Netherlands. 

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