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Flanders’ pioneering biotech players hold all the aces

With a joint market value of EUR 20 billion, clinical-stage pharma research firm Galapagos and immunology specialist Argenx are the main flagships of  Flanders’ biotech industry . Both companies are currently on the brink of launching their first and much-anticipated medicines. But they’re far from the only innovative kids on the biotech block in Flanders. Here’s a short overview of the region’s most promising industry players making international headway.  

Lab at Ablynx, a biotech company from Flanders, Belgium

Argenx: treatment for severe autoimmune conditions

End of May 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to hold the world’s healthcare systems and economies in its grip, Argenx was one of the Brussels stock market’s favorites. The biotech firm from Ghent (Flanders) had just announced its excellent research results for efgartigimod, an antibody fragment that’s being evaluated for the treatment of patients with severe autoimmune diseases such as neuromuscular disease myasthenia gravis (MG). Commercialization of the medicine is now within reach, boosting the company’s market value by 30% to reach EUR 8 billion.   

“The bar was set very high and our medicine ‘jumped over it’ smoothly,” says Tim Van Hauwermeiren, CEO of Argenx. “Two-thirds of the patients experienced fewer complaints thanks to the medicine, and 40% stated that they have no or minimal complaints. That, of course, is the main goal: enable patients to live their lives without being constantly reminded of their disease. It’s fantastic news.”  

Galapagos: novel medicine for inflammatory diseases

With filgotinib, Galapagos has a potential blockbuster as well. Based in Mechelen (Flanders), the biotech company currently has a market value of EUR 12 billion and holds around EUR 5.7 billion in cash. It has been working on a new, groundbreaking medicine for the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatism and Crohn’s disease. Based on previous test results, analysts predict a peak turnover of EUR 3 to 5 billion per year from the sale of filgotinib.  

Ablynx: treating a rare but deadly blood disorder

In 2018, French pharmaceutical giant – and long-time fan of Flanders – Sanofi brought EUR 3.9 billion to the table to acquire Ablynx, a biotech company from Ghent (Flanders) that specializes in the development of medicines based on llama antibodies. Among other things, Sanofi thus acquired Cablivi, a therapy for the treatment of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), a rare but deadly blood disorder characterized by clotting in small blood vessels.  

Confo: platform for discovering new treatments

In 2019, Confo Therapeutics entered the international spotlights following a capital increase of EUR 30 million euros. Just like Ablynx and Argenx, the company from Ghent (Flanders) draws its inspiration from the immune system of llamas. Confo developed a platform to discover treatments for diseases caused by molecular switches in G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs).  

The research is still in its early stage, but two large pharmaceutical companies – i.e. Roche from Switzerland and Lundbeck from Denmark – already showed their interest in using the platform for research on brain diseases, among other conditions.  

eTheRNA: boosting the immune system

Another Flanders-based biotech firm that’s making a name for itself around the world is eTheRNA. Based in Niel (Flanders), the company developed a technology for boosting the human immune system and uses it, among other things, to develop treatments against breast and skin cancer. It recently also joined a consortium with North American and European partners to develop a potential COVID-19 vaccine, for which ETheRNA has already started lab tests and targets clinical trials in early 2021.  

Aelin: developing a new generation of antibiotics

Aelin Therapeutics may still be young, but both Novartis and Boehringer Ingelheim already invested in this biotech player from Leuven and its flourishing laboratories. Aelin is developing a new generation of antibiotics to nip bacterial infections in the bud. The company mainly focuses on five bacteria on the World Health Organization’s most-wanted list,  but also explores new avenues in cancer research.  

More info

AblynxAelin TherapeuticsArgenXConfo TherapeuticseTheRNAGalapagos
Reported by
Newspaper De Tijd
4 June 2020

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