Luxembourg’s BioTech or Life Sciences sector is one which has emerged over the past few years as a direct result of the government’s policy on economic diversification. This article presents a sample of activity in this domain in the Grand Duchy.
Biomedicine and Research in the Grand Duchy
Early in 2011, the Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg (IBBL) and the University of Luxembourg launched a new continuing education programme “Certificate on Principles of Biobanking for Clinical and Environmental Biospecimens and Bioresources”.
The IBBL is an independent, non-profit foundation, collecting, storing and analysing biological samples that are then made available to different research organisations. Biobanks like the IBBL play a critical role in modern medical research by allowing researchers to improve our understanding of diseases and identify suitable treatments.
Biomedicine is a key research focus of the Luxembourgish “Health Science Plan” with the key players being the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University, the Public Research Center for Health and the IBBL.
The programme is designed for students, educators, researchers and practitioners who are custodians of, or have an interest in, biological resources and bio-specimens stored in biobanks and bio-repositories for the purposes of research and their application in various communities of practice.
An objective of the programme is to provide the theoretical, operational and practical knowledge required to facilitate the activities of existing biobanks and assist the creation of new ones. Another goal is to encourage bilateral exchange of knowledge and skills across different thematic biobanking groups involved in biospecimen conservation, storage, science and research.
The new programme is endorsed by the International Society of Biological and Environmental Repositories.
In 2007, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg decided to develop “The Luxembourg Health Sciences and Technologies Action Plan”, a commitment to invest in biosciences and position Luxembourg as a bioscience hub in Europe.
Through the creation of a Centre of Excellence in biomedical research and development, Luxembourg sought long-term improvement of health services through advancements in care, recruitment of scientific and technology talent to Luxembourg, long-term partnerships within the EU and other countries, and sustainable economic growth for the country.
A fundamental tenet of the Action Plan was to build and expand core research competencies that would fuel research and discovery. In June 2008, the Luxembourg government announced the creation of a Systems Biology approach to take advantage of the powerful new advances in technology that easily generate large datasets on individual patients.
The strategic partnership involved the University of Luxembourg and various research centres working in partnership with the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, Arizona, the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) in Seattle, Washington, and the Partnership for Personalized Medicine (PPM), a collaborative effort between Arizona State University in Phoenix (ASU) and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) in Seattle.
This partnership called for the creation in Luxembourg of three major programmes devoted to molecular medicine, with an initial focus on molecular diagnosis for the purpose of transforming the healthcare systems for the people of Luxembourg and for promoting economic growth in biotechnology:
- Luxembourg Centre For Systems Biomedicine (LCSB)
- The Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg (IBBL)
- Lung Cancer Project - a pilot programme in lung cancer to find and validate biomarkers to more effectively manage disease and therapeutic follow-up
The IBBL was officially opened in February 2010.
Philanthropy in BioMed Research
Bench2Cures is a recent initiative aimed at supporting BioMed research. It will provide a type of a match-making platform, helping translate research results into actual cures by linking donors and researchers. Indeed, the financing of research suffers from a couple of significant gaps along the research cycle, including proof of concept when going to market, as well as pre-clinical validation.
The background to Bench2Cures is that personalised medicine is based on prescribing the right drugs to the right patient in the right doses; however, the validation of diagnostics tools to do that can be very expensive.
Bench2Cures tries to apply Private Banking principles to philanthropy, with some donors wanting anonymity and others requesting recognition for their involvement. The added value of Luxembourg is that the national research efforts provides a "home" link with which local donors can identify, but Luxembourg-based research is also very international in scope and the Bench2Cures' concept should hence also appeal to the banking centre’s international clientele. Also, donors can engage with specific projects and the research community.
The Bench2Cures Executive Director and a number of independent board members have already been identified, as well as a distinguished panel of international specialists which will serve as members of the strategic advisory board. The first financial commitments to set up the legal entity have been secured, as well as contribution-in-kind in the form of premises for its first two years of operation.