iotech has reached a significant level of development in Belgium, and the sector is poised for continued steady growth, say executives with two thriving young companies.
Delphi Genetics, a Brussels-based biotech start-up, plans to open a new €3.5-million (US$5-million) facility next year at the University of Brussels Biopark. The 1,500-sq.-m. (16,155-sq.-ft.) facility is being built to handle the 10-year-old company's rapid growth.
Another young drug discovery and development company, reMynd, also has expansion plans, albeit on a smaller scale. The company, which is based in Leuven and specializes in drugs for patients with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and diabetes, currently employs 30 people and is adding employees at the rate of five to eight a year, says its managing director Koen De Witte. The company will be moving to larger space in an incubator at the University of Leuven.
Both of these companies were featured in a presentation on the Belgian biotech sector held during the first day of the 2011 BIO International Convention in Washington, D.C. They are part of a burgeoning sector that saw total investment of €250 million (US$357 million) during 2010.
"When you start a company in Belgium, you feel the support for growth," says Philippe Gabant, a co-founder of Delphi Genetics and the company's business development director. "The four keys for growth are here: people, finance, infrastructure and network."
Delphi Genetics, which specializes in genetic engineering products and technologies, has licensing agreements with some of the major names in the vaccine world, such as Sanofi-Aventis and GSK.
De Witte, whose fledgling company reMynd has spent its entire life in an incubator, stresses the importance of the government- and university-supported incubators in Belgium. "Incubators in Belgium are high-quality tailored facilities," he says.
"We strongly believe that Belgium has all the assets to attract investment," says Marc Czarka, managing partner of HM3A, a Brussels-based consultancy specializing in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Czarka, who moderated the Belgium session, says it's the country's quality of life that keeps foreign companies interested in Belgium.
That belief was echoed by H.R.H. Prince Philippe of Belgium, who also addressed the session. He touted the country's scientific infrastructure and support, along with the high-level academic networking that is available, but said there is something more.
"The significant factor is the importance we attach to quality of life. It's been deeply embedded in our history since the Middle Ages."
BIO this year boasts a sizeable international contingent, with many countries choosing the high-profile venue to make major announcements. Also making news at BIO was the Queensland region of Australia.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh offered details on how her government will allocate AU$100 million (US$104.5 million) in "Smart State" funds recently approved in her state's latest budget. Of that figure, AU$20 million (US$20.9 million) will be used to attract top researchers, AU$50 million (US$52.3 million) will go toward co-investment in high-priority projects and infrastructure and AU$20 (US$20.9 million) will go to ensure that Queensland's research is converted to business innovation and jobs. The remaining AU$10 million (US$10.4 million) will be used as a contingency fund.
"Half of these new funds will be used to co-invest with industry, universities and the Commonwealth," Bligh says. "We're the only state in Australia investing new money. This reflects our determination to lead the nation in this area."
As a result of previous rounds of funding, Smart State has already doubled the number of researchers in Queensland, she says.
"We are committed to encouraging the best brains to Queensland so they can develop world-first technology and improve services that will benefit not only Queenslanders but the rest of Australia and the world."
Bligh say one example of how these funds will benefit businesses is the Commercialization Champions program, which places researches into businesses or skilled entrepreneurs into research institutes to transfer knowledge and skills on a daily basis. Bligh notes that the life sciences work force in Queensland has grown 27 percent between 2007 and 2010 to 27,000.
Bligh also says Queensland is committed to its biofuels sector, which benefits from the region's natural resources.
"In simple terms, resources ranging from specialty crops, grasses, trees and marine algae, to household, industrial and agricultural waste, have the potential to be converted into products such as fuels, plastics, paper and chemicals," Bligh says.
Queensland researchers are preparing a bid to provide the U.S. Navy with biofuels for its ships and planes by 2020.
"By 2020, we want to be the Asia-Pacific region's leading biofuels state," she says.