WELBIO's first essential mission is to support strategic fundamental research in life sciences. The industrial valorisation of the research results constitutes the second essential element of WELBIO’s mission. WELBIO’s valorisation goal is implemented through individual support for researchers. A “valorisation committee” is formed for each project. This committee meets regularly to follow-up on any advances in the project, to reflect on any avenues for valorisation that emerge and to agree on a valorisation strategy for the results, particularly in terms of protecting intellectual property. The development and
promotion of inventions are thus supported through close collaboration with members of the business-university interfaces in host universities.
Our goal is that, thanks to WELBIO funding and individual support, WELBIO researchers will not only make significant scientific discoveries, but also develop new ideas, particularly in terms of treatment and diagnosis. These ideas must subsequently be explored further as part of translational, oriented or applied research projects. Partnerships must be established, or spin-offs created, to bring as many products or services as possible to market.
Where possible, the intellectual property developed within WELBIO is protected by a patent application. The intellectual property of research results obtained through FRF-WELBIO funding is the sole property of the university institutions. As of 31 December 2019, patent applications were under way for 10 inventions. A total of eight patent applications linked to WELBIO projects were published in late 2019.
Research and licensing agreement with industry
One of the first projects financed by WELBIO (2011–2015) aimed to understand the mechanism used by regulatory T-cells (Treg) to prevent cytotoxic T-cells from killing tumour cells. This project led by Pr. Pierre Coulie and Pr. Sophie Lucas (UC Louvain) made it possible to propose a new treatment strategy to block the Treg action and thus allow the immune system to eliminate tumour cells. This development continued within the framework of a research and licensing agreement with Argenx. The project has successfully passed through key pre-clinical stages and IND (Investigational New Drug) registration. The therapeutic antibody is now subject to an exclusive licence to the pharmaceutical giant AbbVie: ABBV-151 started clinical trials in early 2019 for patients with advanced solid tumours. Furthermore, thanks to this successful industrial collaboration, WELBIO has received its first income from industrial development (€800,000 for this project).
The first WELBIO project (2011–2015) by Cédric Blanpain (ULB) aimed to study the role of tumour-based stem cells in the initiation, growth and recurrence of tumours after treatment. Results have shown the potential of a specific protein as a target for treating skin cancer. This work is the basis for the creation of the spin-off ChromeCure, which obtained 17 M€ funding from Belgian and foreign investors.
Projects funded by the Public Service of Wallonia (SPW Recherche)
The project CICLIBTEST has been selected after the 3rd WALInnov call for projects. This project is led Pr. Roger and Dr. Roger (ULB). It aims to develop companion diagnostics (CDx) for CDK4 inhibitors, adapted to different cancers. This project pursues the valorisation potential of the Welbio 2011-2015 project of Pr. Roger, after consolidation thanks to WELBIO Bridge Funding. This development is continuing in collaboration with OncoDNA (Gosselies) .
Pierre Vanderhaeghen’s (ULB) WELBIO projects (2011–2019) concerning the development of the central nervous system made it possible to develop a method for producing cortical neurons from induced pluripotent stem cells. In the long term, this technology makes it possible to envisage strategies for repairing brain lesions using cellular therapy. In the shorter term, human neurons that are produced in vitro may have applications, for example, to test new medications.
This technology has attracted the interest of industrial partners. A consortium has been established and obtained funding from the BioWin competitiveness hub for its iCone project. The iCone (iPSC-derived Cortical neurons) consortium comprises the companies MaSTherCell and Ncardia and the Pierre Vanderhaeghen (ULB) and Philippe Hubert (U Liège) labs.