Interdisciplinary collaboration

Interdisciplinary collaboration pivotal to innovation at Ghent University

Ghent University

Innovation management is becoming increasingly complex. To meet the growing challenges that involves, Ghent University researchers from diverse disciplines work with innovation professionals to develop faster, more efficient and more market-oriented solutions to address social and economic needs. Through innovation platforms, Ghent University establishes connections that have a strengthening effect, both between researchers themselves and with industry. Four health-oriented domains – innovative applications in human and animal healthcare, cancer research, pharmaceutical manufacturing and regenerative medicine – are at the epicenter of this new approach. The four Ghent University staff members who coordinate this platform operation explain the concept in more detail.

Dr. Daisy Flamez, Business Development Manager at the Cancer Research Institute Ghent (CRIG): Bringing together different disciplines – such as physicians, biotechnologists, pharmacists and engineers – is key to cutting-edge research. At the same time, our extensive industrial network allows us to rapidly bring innovative technology to the market. So on both sides we can immediately move up a gear.

 

Through interdisciplinary collaboration we arrive at solutions faster, and the short line between research and industry allows us to accelerate the time to market significantly.

Sven Arnouts and Laetitia Cicchelero of the Cross-Health platform also see many advantages in this way of working.

Sven Arnouts: There are many new technologies (artificial intelligence, diagnostics miniaturization, sensors, etc.) that lead to innovative health applications. As a university, we have the knowledge of all those different innovations under one roof. The Cross-Health platform is therefore aimed at enabling all those technologies to interact and learn from each other. In this way, solutions can gain momentum faster. Animals, including humans, are often more alike than we would expect. So often a new development for humans can also be useful to other animal species, and vice versa. For example, a lot of research into coronaviruses has already been done in veterinary medicine. In fact, there are already many veterinary vaccines against it. All those insights have helped develop COVID-19 vaccines for humans.

CESPE is the acronym for Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Pharmaceutical Engineering. This platform combines all the relevant expertise at Ghent University and at the university colleges, HOGENT and Howest, in innovative flexible production technologies for the pharmaceutical sector.

Wouter De Soete, Manager of the CESPE platform: At the same time, we are working on an industrial collaboration platform, where the various actors in the innovation chain, including pharmaceutical and biotech companies, machine builders and engineering companies, focus on system integration, big data and artificial intelligence. This is how academics and industrial partners innovate together in a way that focuses on real needs. As Dominic De Groote, who has a business development role, goes on to explain:

With the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, fast flexible and distributed production of medicines is more than ever a necessity for the future. Together with industrial partners, we aim to develop technological road maps to meet these needs.

Finally, the Ghent Advanced Therapies and Tissue Engineering platform – GATE for short – is the center of expertise for regenerative medicine at Ghent University and Ghent University Hospital, which focuses on gene therapy, cell therapy and tissue regeneration.

Professor Sandra Van Vlierberghe: Research in this field is complex, so a multidisciplinary approach is really crucial. For each project, all the necessary experts are brought on board in order to achieve an optimal end result. GATE has included valorization in its research projects from the start and a team of business developers supports the collaboration with the business world. This market has been growing enormously for five years now and various spin-offs from GATE are in full preparation.

Ghent University is convinced of the many advantages of this interdisciplinary collaboration and is therefore continuing on the same path. In the coming year, this platform operation will also be applied in other domains.