Leiden Bio Science Park: connecting with the community
For Harry Flore, chair of the LBSP business asociation and CEO at Hal Allergy, the Leiden Bio Science Park (LBSP) has no secrets. But he can well imagine the park is a black box for some staff and students at the university: 'I welcome collaboration on all fronts.'
Flore has worked with the university for many years on science issues: 'You want to share that enormous pool of well-educated people and all the knowledge that is available, and connect them with one another so everyone can benefit.'
The university and the park can strengthen one another's position. Many people don't realise it, but there is a lot of equipment on the LBSP that can be 'loaned' for research. But this can also work the other way around. Flore: 'Did you know that the Gorlaeus lab has the best electron microscope in the Netherlands? There's no need for researchers or start-up companies to buy everything themselves; you can just go and talk to your neighbour. That's the way it ought to be, don't you think?' Unfortunately, not enough use is made of this, or of the OARI website (Open Access Research Infrastructure) that was set up by the university specially for this purpose.
Flore also believes that internships could also benefit from greater collaboration: 'Some students have difficulty finding a work placement, while we are looking specifically for good interns. The way our companies look at it is: if you have a good intern, you also have a potential employee. And for students, practical experience provides a valuable complement to the theory. Once you graduate from university, it will still take you some years to really get to know all the ins and outs of your subject and before you can work completely independently. If you have already got some practical experience, that's a real bonus.'
Soon, once the entrance area is finished and the 1,000 or so homes have been built, the whole area will become more lively in the evenings, and the cultural and social facilities can also be used for knowledge transfer. There will be all kinds of activities, such as lectures, network get-togethers and social events, for example. Flore: ‘We also want to involve the local population. The Night of Discoveries is a good example of how we do that. We need to show what is happening on the park and create a clearer image of who and what we are: what it is that we do, and why people should visit the park. Apart from more collaboration between the university and the companies on the park, we also want what's happening in Leiden as a whole to be reflected in the LBSP. We have to put the park more clearly on the map and look for possible partnerships wherever possible.'
A director is going to be appointed whose job it will be to pursue this actively. He or she will be doing research to find out what the wishes and needs are.
Beyond national borders
There are a total of eight bioscience parks in the Netherlands, in the field of life sciences, with Leiden being the biggest. Flore: ‘You'd be surprised at how many requests we get from foreign parks to come and have a look around the LBSP. And the requests come from some very high-level sources. Recently for example, we had a visit from an eminent allergy specialist, who was part of a delegation from Taiwan. These are nice occasions, where international collaboration plays an important role. Internationally, we can also make good use of the university.'
Finally, Flore comments that it is important not only to bring together science and business, but also to involve politicians. 'The big problem is that people don't understand how long it takes and how much money it costs conducting research on new medicines. To give an example of how long such research can take, when Harry Flore joined Hal Allergy in 2007, research had already been started that is still not finished today. An average research programme takes around 15 years. Pharmaceutical companies are often thought of as 'greedy'. 'That's why we like to show people just what's involved, the whole chain of activities from a to z. Not to defend ourselves, but to give people a complete picture.' A clinical trial alone needs thousands of people. 'A while ago, the park and the university together hosted a number of MPs here and gave them a look behind the scenes. The day was a real eye-opener for them. It's a great example of ways we work together, hopefully doing something useful that we can all benefit from.'
HAL Allergy started as a small laboratory in Haarlem. The company's core activity was, and still is, the treatment of allergies with immunotherapies for allergens. In recent years HAL Allergy has developed to become a key European player in the field of immunotherapies for allergens. The company has been located on the Leiden Bio Science Park since 2009. Read more.