The future of biomanufacturing: is Belgium ready?
Belgium is well-known for its strength in biotechnology research and innovation, but equally important for its ambitions to become a true biotech valley are the 78 biomanufacturing facilities located here. Last Wednesday, November 25, as part of AmCham Belgium’s ongoing Year of Healthcare, we organized an event on the future of biomanufacturing, in collaboration with bio.be, the Belgian federation of biotech companies, and our members Takeda and Sanofi.
Lieven Comeyne, Partner in Deloitte’s Life Sciences Supply Chain & Operations team, gave an insightful keynote presentation on how the biomanufacturing sector is evolving, with a particular focus on talent development. Although biomanufacturing facilities in Belgium have great assets, the challenges they are facing (increased complexity, digitalization and cost pressure, for instance) cannot be ignored. Comeyne explained that the facility of the future will embrace technology across all functions, requiring companies to define new roles and employees to be trained in different skills. There’s a risk of a skills mismatch, and attracting and retaining those highly qualified profiles will be increasingly challenging for companies.
Tineke Van hooland, Deputy Secretary-General of bio.be/essenscia, then moderated a panel discussion with Geoffrey Pot, Site Head - Vice President Operations at Takeda; Veerle Van der Linden, General Manager at ViTalent; Julien Moindrot, Head at Sanofi Geel; and Baudouin Regout, Advisor in the Cabinet of Secretary of State Thomas Dermine.
All panelists agreed that Belgium is a leader when it comes to biomanufacturing, with a successful collaboration between industry, academia and government. However, Julien Moindrot cautioned against being “too romantic,” as challenges exist and today’s assets cannot be taken for granted.
The discussion continued around talent development and the future of the workforce. Veerle Van der Linden explained more about ViTalent, a training and competence center for and by the biomanufacturing sector in Flanders (similar to Cefochim in Wallonia). According to her, speed and flexibility are two crucial elements to prepare the workforce of tomorrow. Thanks to the collaboration with ViTalent, Sanofi in Geel, for example, has been able to reduce the time needed to train a biomanufacturing technician from the usual eight to nine months to only four. Takeda often trains its own workers, and Geoffrey Pot agreed that better collaboration on training and education between all stakeholders could represent a better solution in the long term.
It starts with the education system. Adapting our education system to address the needs of tomorrow’s labor market will be important to maintain Belgium’s position. This will require closer links with industry. If the future of biomanufacturing is digital, we know that digital and soft skills will be necessary, but we can’t predict the exact impact of technology. As Baudouin Regout recalled: “80% of future jobs don’t exist yet.” Teaching students how to learn will therefore be critical – and indeed, the new Federal Government Agreement emphasizes the need for more lifelong learning. For ViTalent, investing in people and ensuring that they are agile is essential, even with more AI and automation.
Belgium needs to define its strategy, said Pot. Collaboration and funding will be critical to ensure that Belgium remains a life sciences hub, and the government has a key role to play to encourage partnerships between all stakeholders. Moindrot urged:
Belgium is 20 times smaller than the US, so let’s be 20 times louder in our ambition!
AmCham Belgium would like to thank all panelists and participants, and we look forward to seeing you at our next Year of Healthcare events!
About the author
Always willing to network, David designs the Chamber’s outreach strategy, building bridges between AmCham and political stakeholders. He enjoys learning foreign languages and traveling.