charged with this mission. This “institute without walls” brought scientists from Antwerp, Ghent, Brussels, and Leuven under the virtual umbrella of the VIB in a joint venture.
The mission of the VIB is to invest in basic research, to train young researchers, and especially to invest in technology transfer. It is also charged with explaining its mission to the public.
VIB now has 850 scientists and technicians who gather once a year from their respective universities for a conference. It has 250 PhD students, who earn their PhD at their home universities in 4-5 years. Once they graduate they must leave the VIB. “We don’t try to keep them,” she said. “If they can find money to support their work, then they can come back.” The VIB itself does not grant a degree.
VIB has a 50-50 partnership with the four universities, where its affiliated faculty work in 60 different research groups in nine academic departments. The total research budget is €60 million. Half of that comes directly as a strategic grant from the Flemish government, €6 million from industry, some from the universities’ match with the VIB, and some from international sources.
The research portfolio emphasizes molecular biology, cell biology, genetics, microbiology, the 3-D structure of protein, bioinformatics, and systems biology (“a fashionable term for the plant in its environment”). Its researchers also study biomedical areas, primarily cancer, neurobiology, inflammation, cardiovascular research, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Their core facilities serve their scientists and the rest of Flanders: a micro-array facility, genetic services facility, protein services facility, nanobody services facility, a bioinformatics training and services facility, and a proteomics core facility. Their mandate from the government was “to be excellent,” and Dr. Ongena said that they took this seriously. Their scientific output for 2004, as measure by publications, showed an impact factor of 10; when the VIB opened, the impact factor was 5. They began with 700 scientists, and have expanded to 850. When they began, VIB scientists published 16 papers a year in top journals; in the past year they had published 65, a 400 percent increase during a time when the staff grew by only 21 percent.
The main emphasis is on the transfer of knowledge into societal benefit. If a discovery is patentable, the VIB usually licenses it to a company. “But if the