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Flanders’ life sciences industry: the perfect combo of biotech, medtech, pharma and healthcare

Defining Flanders’ life sciences industry as diverse is an understatement. From young start-ups to established local firms and multinationals: the entire value chain – from research and discovery to development and commercialization – is represented in Belgium’s northern region. Thanks to fertile cross-pollination between biotech, medtech, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, Flanders offers a unique life sciences ecosystem that is underpinned by a robust financing landscape as well as a supportive government. Will your company claim its place in this dynamic hub?

Quick facts about Flanders’ life sciences industry

Looking for a chart-topping R&D environment to take your life sciences innovations to new heights? Look no further! Within the European Union, Belgium and its northern region of Flanders rank:  

  • #1 for clinical trial procedure speed (source: pharma.be, 2019 facts and figures);  

  • #1 for biotech market capitalization (source: flanders.bio, 2016);  

  • #2 for clinical trial applications per capita (source: pharma.be, 2019 facts and figures); 

  • #3 for pharma and biotech patent applications per capita (source: pharma.be, 2019 facts and figures); 

  • #3 for number (bio)pharma researchers per capita (source: pharma.be, 2019 facts and figures).

Life sciences firms with strong track records

What truly put Flanders’ life sciences industry on the map are the accomplishments of local biotech 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 recognized worldwide to great investor satisfaction. Many started as university spin-offs, grew rapidly and have been acquired by foreign industry leaders.

Reach out to Flanders’ Life Sciences Welcome Team  

Thinking of establishing your life sciences presence in Europe? Call in the tailored support of Flanders’ Welcome Team for Life Sciences. Consisting of specialists from Flanders Investment & Trade, VIB, flanders.bio and Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the team can assist you in:  

  • internationalizing your business;  

  • investigating whether Flanders is the perfect match;  

  • determining the best business approach in the region;  

  • finding the right spot in Flanders’ business ecosystem.  

Reach out to the Welcome Team via invest@fitagency.be.  

From vast knowledge to accelerated innovation

Universities with strong life sciences departments

Innovating in life science is practically a tradition in Flanders. Alongside the local community of biopharmaceutical companies, biotechnological firms and agribusinesses – both large enterprises and SMEs –, Flanders’ universities are the main driver of R&D.  

In fact, each of the region’s five universities has strong and innovative life sciences departments, particularly the universities of Leuven (KU Leuven) and Ghent (UGent). What’s more, these higher education institutions excel in promoting tech transfer and adopt an innovative approach to contract research collaboration with local and international companies.  

To top it all off, Flanders’ universities – which rank among the world’s best and most innovative – ensure your life sciences business of a steady influx of talented people to work and cocreate with. As such, every year, Flanders’ higher education system accounts for:  

  • 25,000+ graduates in health studies, ranging from medicine to medical diagnostics and pharmaceuticals. This represent around 2.2 graduates per 1,000 inhabitants, which is well ahead of the figures for nearby countries such as France (1.5), the Netherlands (1.0) and Germany (0.3).  

  • 1,000+ graduates in CAR-T-relevant disciplines such as biochemistry, biotech, bioengineering, cell & gene technology and biomedical sciences.  

  • 1,500+ graduates in biological and related sciences.  

(source: Eurostat, 2016) 

Backed by three strategic research centers

Three of Flanders’ four strategic research centers are the perfect match to support your life sciences R&D and innovation efforts:  

  • VIB focuses on biotech in all its facets. Its team of scientists from numerous countries has been responsible for major scientific breakthroughs in cancer research, immunology, neuro- and microbiology, medical biotech, etc. In addition, VIB provides advanced life sciences training and coaching

  • imec concentrates on nanotech and digital technology. It plays a crucial role in designing electronics for pharma and healthcare, for example, all while providing access to leading expertise in e-health and e-care innovations.  

  • VITO dedicates its research to cleantech and sustainable development, including the field of sustainable health. The research center works, among other developments, on new applications, measurement methods and biomarkers for preventive healthcare and health management.  

These strategic research centers are proven sources of innovations, business-driven developments and spin-offs. They have the financial means and experts needed to turn science into viable products.

Support from federations, clusters and other key organizations

In Flanders, your life sciences business becomes part of an innovation ecosystem that is supported and represented by various federations, clusters and other key organizations, including:  

  • flanders.bio, a dedicated networking organization for the life sciences sector in Flanders;  

  • flanders.health, an innovative business network and cluster of innovation partners that focus on healthcare personalization and novel healthcare solutions at the intersection of life sciences and digital technologies; 

  • Health House, a one-of-a-kind visitor center in Leuven that showcases the innovative and creative possibilities of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, 3D printing, wearables and more for health and care applications.

Strong related industries and innovation domains

Biotechnology  

Flanders offers a concentrated hub of knowledge institutes, corporations and other stakeholders for biotech R&D. Through CINBIOS, for instance, you can gain access to a vast innovation network of companies and knowledge centers active in industrial biotech. Meanwhile, at different locations in Flanders, VIB’s Core Facilities offer medical biotech services such as sequencing, genotyping, proteomics analysis and protein production and purification.  

In addition, Flanders is home to competitive biotech incubators and accelerators, including:  

  • Bioscape – an incubator designed to help companies grow within a modular, customizable lab environment. Easily accessible, it offers services such as a conference and learning center, a business lounge, front desk service, etc.  

  • Bio-Accelerator Gent – part of Ghent’s biotech valley, this business accelerator provides state-of-the-art labs, offices, meetings rooms, etc.  

  • Bio-incubator Leuven – dynamic life sciences R&D environment that works closely with knowledge institutes such as KU Leuven, University Hospital Leuven, VIB and imec. 

  • Incubator Darwin – associated with the University of Antwerp, this incubator center offers laboratories and office space at Science Park University of Antwerp.  

  • BioVille – located near the Hasselt University campus in Diepenbeek, this bioincubator targets the specific needs of (young) organizations active in the health and care industries.  

  • JLABS – part of the global Johnson & Johnson network, this life sciences incubator is located in the town of Beerse and enables companies to develop groundbreaking healthcare and wellbeing solutions.  

  • Food Port – part of the Feed Food Health Campus in the town of Tienen, this incubator offers ample office, lab and production space to companies active in food and feed R&D.  

  • imec.iStart – launched by strategic research center imec, this open accelerator program offers pre-seed funding and tailored support to help tech start-ups succeed and grow globally.  

  • imec.xpand – this venture capital fund concentrates on supporting hardware-based nanotech innovations where imec’s technology, expertise, network and infrastructure make a difference.  

  • Obelisc – located in Ghent’s biotech cluster, this bio-accelerator offers companies everything they need to develop medical breakthroughs.  

What’s more, various science parks in Flanders focus on biotech and related fields, such as:  

  • Tech Lane Ghent – a vibrant ecosystem of R&D centers, public research institutes and high-tech growth enterprises. It focuses on materials science, digital tech and life sciences (incl. green biotech, antibody therapeutics, inflammation research, food tech and more).  

  • Science Park University of Antwerp – a research park with office space and labs for start-ups and large companies active in the health, environment, IT and logistics industries. It is characterized by a smart combination of knowledge clustering, professional business support services and convenient accessibility within the Antwerp-Brussels transport hub.  

  • BlueGate Antwerp – the first eco-effective, water-bound business park in Belgium, serving as a springboard for growth companies.  

  • Arenberg Science ParkHaasrode Research Park and Leuven Noord Science Park (under construction) – these three science parks are all located in or near the city of Leuven and focus on high-tech, innovative enterprises and international research-intensive companies interested in collaborating with Leuven’s various knowledge institutions.   

To top it all off, biotech companies can choose from a great variety of contract research organizations (CROs) to work and innovate with in Flanders. Think of Biogazelle (Ghent), Bio-Plus Safety Pharmacology (Mol), Bio4ward (Landen), BARC (Ghent), BioMARIC (Ghent), BioLizard (Ghent), BISC Global (Ghent), Conforma (Destelbergen), Clinitude (Leuven), Digital Cell Imaging (Keerbergen), EMTEX (Sint-Martens-Latem), the European Center for Chirality (Ghent), EGAMI (Antwerp), Innogenetics Biologicals (Ghent), Icometrix (Leuven), KasaConsult (Hoegaarden), Medpace (Leuven), Ontoforce (Ghent), ProGenTomics (Ghent), ProDigest (Ghent), Q-Biologicals (Ghent), InnoSer (Hasselt) and more.  

Medical technology

The next generation of medtech applications will arise from the intersection of healthcare, nanotechnology, biotechnology and even cybersecurity. These are all niches in which numerous Flanders-based start-ups and companies are at the top of their games. Some of them have contributed to major breakthroughs in advanced microscopy, medical imaging, biochips (for advanced diagnostics), active implants (pumps, drug delivery systems, neurostimulators) and more. 

In addition, Flanders is home to numerous organizations active in medtech-related R&D and business incubation. These include: 

Pharmaceuticals

Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, Roche Diagnostics, Novartis, Sanofi, MSD, Amgen, Merck, Agilent… Flanders has one of the world’s highest concentrations of biopharmaceutical companies. It should therefore come as no surprise that biopharma R&D investments in the region have been skyrocketing year after year, creating interesting opportunities for your life sciences business. They also work closely with international pharmaceutical sites across other Belgian regions, including the likes of GSK and UCB.

Financing your life sciences business in Flanders

When deciding to establish activities or headquarters in Flanders, your life sciences business can reap the rewards of:  

  • fiscal options to help you cut labor costs.  

  • venture capitalist and bank funding experts that specialize in life sciences and biopharmaceuticals.

Tax incentives for research-intensive activities

Flanders offers access to several tax incentives that are particularly relevant to research-intensive sectors like the life sciences industry. Examples include:  

  • the innovation income deduction – up to 85% of a company’s net innovation income can be exempt from corporate tax.  

  • the R&D investment deduction – 13.5% of the investment value (at once) or 20.5% of the annual depreciation (staggered).   

  • the R&D payroll tax exemption – 80% of the withholding tax on professional income for researchers and academic personnel. 

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