The Area Development Frontline series offers insight into the innovative strategy being taken by businesses that are succeeding, intelligence on locations that are deploying winning policy to attract investment and talent, and reports on the industry trends that are affecting and shaping the global business climate now and into the future.Flanders, Belgium, is home to one of Europe's strongest biotechnology hubs. In 2010, reMYND allied with Roche to develop first-in-class, disease-modifying treatments for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Swiss company Biocartis invested 30 million euros in Flanders production and R&D facilities. And Germany's Bayer CropScience has a Flanders hub focusing on plant stress tolerance and higher crop yields.
"There is a lot of potential, and we are confident that we will deliver several new therapeutics for unmet needs in the years to come," says Ann Van Gysel, managing director of regional industry organization FlandersBio.
Now, FlandersBio, with more than 210 members, is reaching out to the American biotech sector with partnerships that foster growth across borders.
In May, FlandersBio and BioNJ, New Jersey's biotech industry organization, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to solidify international ties between the clusters.
"New Jersey was an obvious choice," Van Gysel says. Since Flanders has an emerging biotech sector, and New Jersey's is well established, there is high potential for growth of small Belgian biotech companies. BioNJ Chairman Geert Cauwenbergh also hails from Flanders and knew of its biotech cluster. Plus, "Johnson & Johnson, a New Jersey-based multinational, has an important R&D center in Flanders with more than 3,000 employees, so New Jersey was a perfect match," Van Gysel says.
The MOU will allow American and Flemish companies to discover expertise, knowledge, and funding necessary for growth. "Flanders is a gateway to the European market," Van Gysel says. And established New Jersey companies that have experience in bringing products to market can collaborate and help fund development of nascent R&D projects in Flanders.
For BioNJ, the MOU is part of a larger international strategy to partner with global entities. "If companies from that region considered setting up in New Jersey and vice versa, that would be a major win of this arrangement," says BioNJ President Debbie Hart.
Over the next year, FlandersBio will host a delegation of New Jersey pharmaceutical executives to establish a dedicated partnering event with Flemish companies. The organization's annual "knowledge for growth" event, scheduled for May 2011, will feature an international track reserved for speakers from New Jersey. The same month, BioNJ will hold its BioPartnering Conference in Princeton, and hopes to host Flemish delegates. It's also planning a trip to Flanders next year to tour companies, universities, and research parks for possible collaborations.
NYBA and MassBio
FlandersBio is also in talks with the New York Biotechnology Association (NYBA), an Empire State industry association, and MassBio, representing the Massachusetts biotech sector.
"They are the top biotech/pharma clusters in the U.S.," Van Gysel says, explaining why FlandersBio targeted the two states. "There are many excellent research centers and universities, and a very strong biotech community."
FlandersBio has begun preliminary talks with MassBio. Peter Abair, MassBio's director of economic development, says his organization's members saw some of the Belgian delegation at this year's BIO International Convention in Chicago, and he hopes talks will progress. MassBio already has an MOU with the Golden Triangle Partnership, a biotech organization representing Oxford, Cambridge, and London in the United Kingdom. "We're always looking to expand these relationships," Abair says.
In December, NYBA will make official an MOU with FlandersBio, which aims to keep communication, research and development, and business opportunities between the regions open. NYBA has a similar MOU with Frankfurt, Germany's biotech cluster, and has been pursuing international partnerships.
"One of the things I keep telling my member companies, which are smaller, is that if they don't have an international strategy early on, it's already too late," says Nathan Tinker, NYBA executive director. "This MOU creates a way to ease that relationship."