Ghent University and VIB open new research building with unique BioSafety Level 3 facility for airborne pathogens

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FSVM II-onderzoeksgebouw in het Tech Lane Ghent Science Park van Zwijnaarde
FSVM II-onderzoeksgebouw in het Tech Lane Ghent Science Park van Zwijnaarde
To meet the increasing demand for customized lab infrastructure, VIB (Flanders’ leading life sciences institute) and Ghent University have opened a new research building at the Tech Lane Ghent Science Park in Zwijnaarde.

To meet the increasing demand for customized lab infrastructure, VIB (Flanders’ leading life sciences institute) and Ghent University have opened a new research building at the Tech Lane Ghent Science Park in Zwijnaarde.

With this important investment in high-quality new infrastructure, VIB and Ghent University ensure that Flemish top research can continue to lead to important breakthroughs. Cherry on the cake: the building’s new BioSafety Level 3 facility (BSL-3) will allow for experimental research on airborne pathogens. In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, the BSL-3 facility makes the building highly relevant for research on pathogens that could cause the next pandemic.

Biotechnology research in Flanders is on the rise. In recent years, the region has seen its biotech cluster grow exponentially. This is, in part, thanks to some major breakthroughs in research areas such as immunotherapy and personalized medicine. In turn, this has resulted in an ever-increasing demand for additional research space and the need for specialized equipment to enable cutting-edge research. To meet these needs, in 2018, VIB and Ghent University started the construction of a brand-new research building in the heart of the Ghent biotech cluster at the Tech Lane Ghent Science Park in Zwijnaarde. The new Fiers Schell Van Montagu II (FSVM II) building was named after top Ghent scientists Walter Fiers, Jeff Schell and Marc Van Montagu. With a total surface area of 15,000 m, the building primarily houses the Center for Medical Biotechnology of VIB and Ghent University. Although the building was already in use during the pandemic, it is now finally being inaugurated.

Nico Callewaert, Director of the Centre for Medical Biotechnology: "Since its inception in 2014, our center was - in its current constellation - located at two different sites in Ghent, with one part still vested in the old labs on the Bijloke site. Innovative science is something that grows best when researchers with diverse experimental specialties interact as much as possible, so integration into one new lab was a priority. We therefore spent years working intensively with the construction team on the design of the lab. The state-of-the-art facilities will now take our research capabilities to a much higher level, both for high-biosecurity work as needed for our influenza and coronavirus research, as well as for high-tech bioanalytical instrumentation."

Intertwined with the local biotech ecosystem

In addition to extensive lab space, the building features an animalarium for the care of laboratory animals and brand-new greenhouses for plant research. Moreovero, it is directly connected to the FSVM I building where, among others, VIB and Ghent University’s Center for Inflammation Research (IRC) and some VIB core facilities find their home. The proximity of those research centers and supporting technical services should provide more cross-fertilization between different research areas. The reinforced presence of research facilities such as the FSVM II building, combined with the proximity of several industrial players make the Tech Lane Ghent Science Park an increasingly attractive location for scientific research.

Wim Goemaere, COO of VIB: "Our industry is growing at lightning speed. To continue to support that growth, it is necessary that we remain committed to adequate appropriate infrastructure. State-of-the-art research facilities are indispensable to engage in world-class research. That is why VIB, in collaboration with Ghent University, is taking its responsibility to jointly provide additional new infrastructure that is perfectly suited to the innovative nature of our scientific research. The new FSVM II building will accommodate 200 researchers in addition to the nearly 650 researchers currently working in the FSVM I building, right here at the heart of the Ghent biotech cluster. To continue to meet the needs of start-ups as well, VIB is currently building a new bio-incubator together with PMV on the Eiland in Zwijnaarde. In doing so, we will soon further strengthen the biotech ecosystem on Ghent’s Techlane."

Unique BioSafety facility for airboren pathogens

What makes the new research building unique is the presence of a so-called BioSafety Level 3 or BSL-3 facility. Such a laboratory meets particularly strict safety conditions and is suitable for both in vitro and in vivo research on airborne pathogens. Until now, the Ghent biotech system did not have a BSL-3 facility, making such research impossible. The new research building now changes this. Thanks to special ventilation and air filtration systems, security measures and adapted cleaning techniques, safety in the laboratory remains assured, allowing research to be carried out without risk. An important asset for the future, because the COVID-19 crisis made research into airborne pathogens a societal priority.

Jo Brouns, Flemish Minister for Science and Innovation:"This new research building is part of a whole ecosystem of companies, research facilities and academic institutions. In other words, it is a real crucible of science, talent and industry. It illustrates very well how we are strongly committed to innovation in Flanders. The BSL-3 facility paves the way for specialized research on airborne diseases such as COVID-19. Today, this is pre-eminently a field of research with a societal importance that should not be underestimated. It stands to reason that I can only welcome such a development.

With this important investment in new state-of-the-art infrastructure, VIB and Ghent University are together ensuring that Flanders continues to take the lead in fundamental scientific research and to fulfill its leadership role on the international playing field. In doing so, Flemish world class researchers can continue to achieve important breakthroughs with a societal impact in the future.