Andy Furniere

With its network of thematic SynBio Studios, investment company eureKARE is boosting the creation of new European start-ups in synthetic biology. Its first EU studio is located in Brussels and focuses on biomedical applications. Things are moving fast, and the studio has already welcomed two companies onboard.
Belgian-American AB InBev, the world's largest brewer, has set up a separate R&D division called BioBrew to develop animal-free proteins using precision fermentation. Quite a number of companies are already focused on producing alternative proteins, which don’t cause harm to animals and are more sustainable, but they generally lack the capacity to produce them on a commercial level. This is one of the things that sets BioBrew apart, thanks to AB InBev’s knowhow of using yeast fermentation on a large scale to make beer.
Batteries are a crucial component of the energy transition away from fossil fuels, but the technology currently faces issues with sustainable recycling methods, which are vital for recuperating the rare raw materials inside the power cells. The European ACROBAT consortium, led by Flemish research center VITO, is tackling this issue specifically for LFP batteries – a type of lithium-ion batteries that are steadily growing in importance, including for electric cars.
Much has been said about the huge economic potential of algae, but this ‘green gold’ has yet to meet expectations. The European project IDEA – led by Belgian research center VITO – is examining the economic benefits of microalgae and developing strategies to overcome remaining challenges. Interim results show that algae can very well be grown in the climate of Northwestern Europe and can be used to efficiently produce products such as healthy biscuits, animal feed and cosmetic applications.
Ghent-based Indigo aims to make a huge difference to the quality of life of people with diabetes. The company is developing a device to render the monitoring of blood sugar levels painless and invisible, a major improvement compared to the tools available today. The innovative technology is based on spectroscopy – using light to measure glucose levels through the skin.
The radioisotope Actinium-225 shows clear promise in the battle against cancer, but to fulfil its potential we will need to enable large-scale production of the rare substance. A collaboration between IBA – the world’s leading company in particle accelerator technology – and the Belgian Nuclear Research Center (SCK CEN) now makes this crucial step possible. The partners are constructing a production plant on the SCK CEN site in the Flemish city of Mol.
Abscint is one of several Belgian biotech companies using single-domain antibodies. But unlike the others, Abscint is using these antibodies for diagnostic purposes instead of therapeutic ones. After being labelled with a miniscule amount of radioactive material, the antibodies can be used to show on PET/CT scans for example whether breast cancer cells have spread to the brain, or if patients with sarcoidosis are at risk of a sudden cardiac arrest. The company, founded in 2020, is currently looking for funding to bring its solutions to the market as soon as possible.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness, affecting around 100 million people worldwide. Good news though: the innovative implant MINIject – developed by Wavre-based company iSTAR Medical –  has the capacity to prevent progression of the eye disease. The first commercial MINIject implantations are currently being done in Germany, with other European countries to follow soon and a trial in the US underway.
Belgian GreenTech company H2WIN has developed H2GREEN: an ingenious system to make hydrogen production 100% renewable, more efficient, less expensive, and less energy consuming. Based in Nivelles, H2WIN drew inspiration from nature’s own ancient methods of generating energy: photosynthesis. The company is currently looking for funding to finance the next steps towards industrial-scale production.
As part of the ‘Health & Biotech Valley of Tomorrow’ initiative, the Belgian government recently signed a charter together with stakeholders from academia and industry, pledging to cement Belgium’s status as a biotech powerhouse in the next 10 to 20 years. Over the next few months, working groups will translate recommendations of a consultancy report into a concrete strategic plan for the future of the country. Amongst other topics, experts will evaluate ways to encourage more collaboration, provide financial stimuli, and make better use of health data.
Long COVID is a less talked-about aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet its impact on society is already profound. Although this problem is still largely flying under the radar of the life sciences industry, a couple of first movers have already initiated clinical programs to address the condition. If more companies move into this space, long COVID may prove a catalyst for R&D in other related and underserved indications, like chronic fatigue syndrome.
For its first European base, pharmaceutical consultant Amador Bioscience has chosen to set up shop in Limburg province, Belgium. The company, which already had branches in the United States and China, was attracted to Hasselt because of the proximity of the University of Hasselt (UHasselt), which has a strong reputation in biostatistics. In the coming years, Amador Bioscience is looking to hire 120 biostatisticians and biomedical engineers at its Belgian site.