Breaking Buzz is BIO’s newest blog series that reaches across the globe to bring you an insider’s preview into the hottest international and partnering trends coming to San Diego for the BIO International Convention.
Building a Science-Driven Network Economy in Six Steps
Scientists in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium, have taken a rigorous look at the state of biotechnology in their region over the past 18 months by asking themselves the time-honored questions: “Who are we, and why are we here?” At first glance it appears a rudimentary inquiry, but the answers that followed since then, were anything but idle chatter.
FlandersBio Managing Director, Henk Joos, first posed this question when he joined the organization in 2014. Since then he has led the charge to transform it from a traditional association that supports small biotech companies into what will be presented the BIO International Convention in San Diego: “A strong engine for a life science-driven network economy”. He didn’t build that engine alone, but rather with member companies and colleagues, each soliciting new ideas and devising ways to predict the future of biotechnology; and perhaps redefine it along the way.
The affable Henk sums it up like this: “We discovered it necessary to broaden our scope and be much more technology driven, recognizing that life science, not just biotechnology, is in our DNA. We focus on the broadness of technologies within life science, including nanoelectronics, ICT, and 3D printing to develop a greater diversity of products and services. Essentially we represent a life science economy in which networking and interacting across different technology domains has become very, very significant. So right now, what we are is ecosystems of technologies within life science that advocate cross-platform collaboration; why we are here, is to nurture that ecosystem. ”
It’s this kind of insight that makes a conversation with Henk so enjoyable. He can shift from transcendent to pragmatic in a nanosecond.
At the annual General Assembly held by FlandersBio in April of this year, Henk presented the culmination of the organization’s new-found philosophy into six key strategic tracks, outlined here in very specific order:
- Discover. Make sure that all academic research is effectively matched with the R&D objectives of companies by making a platform where universities, researchers, and companies alike, are visible so people can find one another.
- Connect. Bring different technology platforms together. ICT, nanoelectronics, 3D printing and biotechnology each provide solutions. By combining these different platforms, more discoveries will be made, and therefore more solutions available to patients and consumers.
- Test. Expand expertise in complex clinical trials already happening in Flanders by not only approving novel therapeutics and diagnostics, but also approving combinations of solutions that are discovered.
The organization is quick to point out that in order to achieve the above mentioned tracks; the next two must be secure:
- Fund. Set up a digital platform so whatever financing options are there – whether it’s diluted or non-diluted, it’s visible to any company or research organization seeking assistance.
- Educate. Continue and expand the already international industry-readiness MBA program for life science students who want to develop in conjunction with their companies.
And finally, once FlandersBio effectively helps companies navigate tracks 1 – 5, those companies are certain to be fully prepared for the final track:
- Build. Build a therapeutic ecosystem and share success stories that have been developed in the region. Partner with other regions to benefit in both directions of working together.
Sharing these success stories is exactly what Henk will be doing – in both formal and impromptu conversations – throughout the Convention.
Henk reflects, “We are a small region. But when I add our friends from the other part of Belgium into the equation, we are now a region where there are 500 companies, research institutes, economic groups all involved in broad life science applications. That’s significant for a small country with 11 million people – in fact it puts us among the top life science regions in Europe.”
What are not small however, are the events FlandersBio and Henk have planned for San Diego during the Convention: On Monday morning they are hosting the Belgian Session, where a panel of industry experts will discuss the future of immuno-oncology treatments, moderated by Ann Van Gysel, BioVox; and one of the hottest-ticket-in-town events planned for Wednesday night: Belgian Café @BIO 2017.
For that you’ll need an invitation so be sure to pick one up at the FlandersBio pavilion, if you too, want to eat Belgian fries, drink Belgian beer, and (with any luck!) see Henk kick up his clogs in the Boombal, a traditional Belgian folk dance.