On October 6, the SPI (Liège economic development agency) inaugurated a new business space on the car park of the Liège University Hospital Centre at the Sart Tilman site. The 1600m² of laboratories and offices are aimed at hosting young businesses active in the biotechnology sector. This new project (supported by the ERDF, Wallonia and the SPI) constitutes an investment of over 4.5 million Euros which rounds out the services available to the GIGA (interdisciplinary applied genoproteomics group) and strengthens the attractivity of this important Walloon research and education cluster and the services offered to businesses in the biotechnology sector.
Concerning this new investment, Julien Mestrez, President of the SPI, states: ‘with this investment the SPI is once again demonstrating its commitment to a project which is important for the province of Liège and the Walloon Region. To specifically get involved in the biotechnology sector is a new theme for the SPI. It is a challenge to which our teams are rising with enthusiasm and with the satisfaction of effectively linking up with multiple operators active since the origins of the GIGA project. The building site demanded very close technological co-ordination to respond to the specifications particular to biotechnology companies. The new building allows a considerable increase in the spaces dedicated to economic activity within the GIGA-Entreprises Unit, which rises from 2,400m² to 4000m². Already four businesses in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector have already shown their interest in joining the 7 other companies already installed within GIGA-Entreprises.’
In addition to this ‘GIGA-Entreprises Espace 1’ building, new investment has also been completed concerning the GIGA tower at the Liège university Hospital Centre, with the development and fitting out of two supplementary levels, with a total amount close to 13 million Euros (funded jointly by the ERDF and Wallonia), including the personnel payroll.
These new investments – with a total of over 17 million Euros – linked to the imminent creation of the CIM (Medical Innovation Centre), strengthens the position of the Hospital-GIGA-ULg cluster as a major actor in the area of health, innovation and medical research, to the benefit of patients and the regional economy.
Established at the heart of the university campus and physically integrated with the Liège University Hospital Centre, the GIGA is a major research and development cluster active in the field of biotechnologies. It is a unique structure in Belgium and one of the few examples in Europe which has pushed so far the integration of academic research and cooperation with specialised business companies, research valorisation structures and professional training and education institutions. The innovative concept of the GIGA, inspired by the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden (Germany), encourages multi-disciplinarity and is based on close cooperation between the world of research and that of business.
Integrated within the GIGA are a high level academic research centre (500 interdisciplinary researchers in the sciences, veterinary medicine and the applied sciences), 7 technology platforms, a biotechnology education centre (working jointly with Forem Formation), 3 biotechnology company sites (4000m² in total) as well as the Liège plant of the incubator Wallonia Biotech Coaching (WBC), the whole directed to the creation of innovative approaches in genoproteomics.
The GIGA was launched in 2002 with the significant support of Wallonia and the European Regional Development Fund, which invested 12.5 million Euros in the project’s launch, a sum primarily consecrated to the transformation of the building and the installation of the first equipment. Funds of over 2 million Euros provided by Wallonia in 2006 enabled the completion of the GIGA’s high-tech scientific equipment and to fit it out, for example, with an Illumina genotyping platform, a flow cytometer, bioinformatics servers and mouse and zebrafish animal houses (unique in Wallonia). The GIGA benefited in 2008 from new ERDF-Wallonia funds with an amount close to 15 million Euros (13 million for equipment and 3 million to support new research projects).
The GIGA-Research Unit today numbers 500 scientists, including several dozen foreign researchers (doctoral and postdoctoral) representing 35 nationalities. The science teams develop their research in 7 themes (Cancer/Development, stem cells and regenerative medicine/Genetics/Infection, immunity and inflammation/Neurosciences/Signal transduction/Systems biology and chemical biology). The GIGA-research Unit is engaged in large scale programmes, for example Neoangio (25 million Euros in the fight against cancer within the framework of a Walloon programme of excellence inscribed in the Marshall Plan), Alma-in-Silico (2.2 million Euros for a Euregional virtual laboratory bringing together the genoclusters of Liège, Maastricht, Aachen and Hasselt), the public-private partnership Neurocom, developed together with the UCB and Wallonia for research into epilepsy and neurodegenerative diseases (5 million Euros), a programme completed by Neuuredge for the technological platform shared by the GIGA and the UCB.
Since 2007 the teams of the GIGA-Research Unit have published over 600 articles in international journals and applied for 26 patents in the past two years. Its members have been awarded prizes and distinctions. Professor Michel Georges received the 2007 agriculture prize from the Wolf Foundation (Israel) and the Belgian Francqui Prize (Belgian’s highest scientific distinction) in 2008; the past five winners of the InBev-Baillet Latour Fund’s prize for clinical research (the most prestigious in Belgium) have come from the CHU-GIGA-ULg (Didier Cataldo in 2011, Frédéric Baron in 2010, Laurence de Leval in 2009, Patrizio Lancellotti in 2008, Steven Laureys in 2007); in 2009, The Scientist, an American life sciences magazine, classed the ULg in the Top 10 of the most interesting international institutions for carrying out postdoctoral studies in the field of life sciences.
Through its 3 sites, the GIGA dedicates 4,000m² to hosting businesses in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical fields. These spaces are generated by specialised operators (SPI and Science Park Services – a subsidiary of the Meusinvest group and Gerval). Currently speaking 7 businesses have been set up at the GIGA: Arlenda, Artialis, Diagenode, Labage, MDxHEALTH, ProGenosis and the incubator Wallonia Biotech Coaching (WBC). These businesses represent 120 highly qualified jobs.
7 technology platforms (Genotranscriptomics/Proteomics/Bioinformatics/Mouse facility and transgenesis/Zebrafish facility and transgenesis/Imaging and flow cytometry/Immunohistology) have been set up as networks and are accessible to both researchers and business companies.
Another considerable plus is the access, following strict ethical regulations, to the Liège (CHU-GIGA-ULg) biotech, a collection of human cells and tissues to be used for human medical applications and for scientific research ends (www.giga.ulg.ac.be/biotheque).
Since 2005, Forem Formation Liège/Huy, a GIGA partner, has developed training programmes for the specific professions within the biotechnologies aimed at jobseekers and workers in businesses and High School students. Originally planned to give 10,000 hours of training annually, close to 35,000 hours per year have been offered since 2008. The rates of profession (re)insertion for jobseekers who have followed courses at the Centre Forem Formation Biotechnologie is close to 80% (2005-2010). Based in Liège but being influential throughout the whole of Wallonia, the training centre is also an important actor in the Biowin competitivity cluster, which has been granted a label for a new training programme in bioinformatics which will begin in 2012. www.formation-biotechnologie.be
- SPI, Catherine Collette, 04 230 11 49 – firstname.lastname@example.org
- ULg, Didier Moreau, 04 366 52 17 – email@example.com / GIGA ULg, Aurélie Gouverneur, 04 366 41 58 – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Forem Formation Biotechnologie, Laurent Corbesier, 04 366 39 00 – email@example.com