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


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

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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.

In Flanders, life sciences businesses are part of an innovation ecosystem that is supported by various federations, clusters and other key organizations. For financing, there are several subsidies and other support available via the Flemish government. Especially investments in R&D and innovation can benefit from several incentives that are relevant to a research-oriented sector like life sciences.

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. Many started as university spin-offs, grew rapidly and have been acquired by foreign industry leaders.

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

Backed by three strategic research centers

Three of Flanders’ four strategic research centers can support life sciences R&D and innovation efforts. They 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.

  • 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. 
  • imec concentrates on nanotech and digital technology. It plays a crucial role in designing electronics for pharma and healthcare.
  • VITO dedicates its research to cleantech and sustainable development, including the field of sustainable health

Strong related industries and innovation domains


Flanders offers a concentrated hub of knowledge institutes, corporations and other stakeholders for especially industrial and medical biotech R&D

Flanders is home to competitive biotech incubators and accelerators, for example Bio-Accelerator Gent, Bioscape, BioVille and JLABS, part of the global Johnson & Johnson network. 

Imec.iStart,  launched by strategic research center imec, offers pre-seed funding and tailored support to help tech start-ups grow globally.  Also part of imec, imec.xpand , is a venture capital fund concentrating on supporting hardware-based nanotech innovations where imec’s  technology, expertise, network and infrastructure make a difference.  

There are also various science parks in Flanders which focus on biotech and related fields. 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. 

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, active implants and more. 


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.

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