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Watch Liège becoming a major healthcare hub

Written by DS on in the category Interviews with the tags , , .


Bridge 2 Health (B2H), previously known as sCINNAMIC, is a company whose mission  is to valorize biomedical research from the University of Liège (ULg) and the Liège University Hospital (CHU de Liège). The patient-centered approach of the ULg/CHU de Liège and their commitment to investing in outcome-driven care by leveraging their complementary capabilities have led to the creation of a joint strategy internally called “Pôle Santé.” B2H has been mandated to play a pivotal role in its implementation.

B2H can take advantage of the academic and medical resources that have been built over the years in Liège, and of the proximity of the Liège Science Park. “This is an important asset, as our role is to function as the global access point for the industry and other academic centers who wish to collaborate with the ULg/CHU de Liège,” says Benoît Palms, CEO of B2H.  “We want to grow and intensify international collaborations. The problem is that researchers sometimes are still too much oriented towards their specific focus areas. We try to interconnect researchers , create synergies and as such help them to externalize their efforts to the industry. Also, the commitment from other stakeholders, such as clinicians and nurses from the CHU, is important to make collaborations successful and to serve patients better.”

Patents available!

B2H opens the access to breakthrough research in neurology, oncology, cardiology, bone and cartilage technology by implementing a more proactive approach  for the out-licensing activities. Several innovative patents in the therapeutics, diagnostic and medical device areas have been filed by the ULg/CHU, and more will follow. Palms explains: “Within the therapeutics area, for example, in oncology, scientists from GIGA identified a promising new target for a combined treatment in triple-negative breast cancer patients (patients suffering from a non-hormone-related breast cancer). An unexpected functional link between MT4-MMP (MMP17) and the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) was shown . Clear evidence was given that MT4-MMP controls EGFR phosphorylation and signaling.”

We are proactively approaching companies for whom these patents can be interesting.
 

In biomaterials research, a renowned team is working on innovative approaches that combine drug immobilization , drug absorption, sustained drug delivery, drug targeting and tissue engineering. In a total different area, the researchers at the Cyclotron have developed a technique to create faster, cheaper and safer PET tracers. They are able to produce multiple high quality 18F-based tracers, suitable for clinical trials, and have dedicated GMP facilities for this.

“On our B2H website, you will find an interesting list of patents across different focus areas,” Palms says. “We are proactively approaching companies for whom these patents can be interesting. In the near future, we will also actively communicate our research findings and projects through various channels, by organizing therapy-focused events and by attending scientific congresses and partnering events across the globe.”

Leveraging the synergy of an academic-clinical-industrial cooperation

Internally, B2H helps researchers to implement an efficient valorization process, maximize the funding for their projects and develop a well-thought-out IP strategy together with the TTO for each and any project.  They make good research data and publications more visible to the outside world, the industry and other academic centers. Next, through a strong communication strategy and networking efforts, B2H identifies potential industrial partners. The B2H team will also lead and manage most of the contractual agreements between academics and industrial partners.

There is unfortunately a fundamental gap between what industries expect and what universities can deliver.
 

“Our network consists of contacts  within the pharma, biotech, medical device and diagnostic industries,” Palms continues. “We try to understand a company’s needs and assess how academics and clinicians could work together to  develop their pipeline, ideally in a collaborative research setting, whether the IP is sourced internally or externally. As a company, B2H will ensure quality work and timely delivery as to the industry standards.” B2H works on a fee-for-service basis, but wants to make R&D a win-win situation for all parties. “One of our major advantages,” Palms says, “is the close cooperation between ULg and the CHU de Liège. This unique combination of academic excellence and clinical expertise allows fast and innovative product development.”

Palms continues: “There is unfortunately a fundamental gap between what industries expect and what universities can deliver. I see incredible, innovative projects coming from our researchers, but they often lack funding to get to the early proof of concept stage. Pharma companies are not interested to pick up these projects, because they are just too early-stage. I am working on assessing the best strategy going forward to close that gap. Creating appropriate private funding by aligning projects, stakeholders and capital seems to be a potential route. It is our role as B2H to make sure that innovation in Liège will find its way up to the patient!"

Putting Liège on the European Healthcare map

The Liège area has all the right assets to make the life sciences cluster a big success. Already more than 100 companies have spun off from the ULg, the most famous being Mithra Pharmaceuticals, Eurogentec and KitoZyme. Other key success factors are present as well: Located adjacent to a large university (the ULg), Liège has the only university hospital (CHU de Liège) in Wallonia, the presence of a biotech incubator (WBC), direct access to a local VC (Meusinvest) and strong governmental support for the healthcare sector. Palms adds: “The Liège area is therefore a perfect example of a successful and vibrant culture of research and business partnerships, located at the heart of a life sciences cluster with more than 70 companies and over 3000 employees.”

Palms concludes: “This very ambitious strategy clearly indicates the willingness of the ULg, the CHU de Liège and all their researchers and clinicians to leverage their capabilities with external partners for the well-being of the patient. We can fully rely on the internal resources and on all the satellite structures within the Liège area. We have privileged support from the TTO, the main ULg research centers (GIGA, CIRM, CIP and Cyclotron) and from the various faculties of Medicine, Science, Applied Sciences and Veterinary Sciences. With that in mind, we have the ambition to put Liège on the European map of innovation for the healthcare industry.”

Benoît Palms obtained an MSc in Molecular Biology from Ghent University, an additional MSc at the University of Compiegne (France) and a PhD at the University of Lille (France). He has 20 years of experience in the pharma industry with AstraZeneca (Belgium), GSK (Belgium), Merck Serono (Geneva) and Almirall (Barcelona). He spent about 10 years in global operational marketing roles and then moved to licensing and business development. He signed numerous major licensing agreements and established several private-public partnerships between academia and industry. In 2014, he joined sCINNAMIC (now B2H) as CEO.

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