Urbain Vandeurzen, one of Belgium’s leading business entrepreneurs, has committed to spending €200 million through one of his companies to pay for research into Alzheimer’s disease. Vandeurzen was a member of the board of the Flemish government’s investent arm GIMV for 12 years, and chairman for five. He has also sat on the board of Barco, Van Breda and the university of Leuven (KU Leuven), his alma mater where he gained a doctorate in engineering.
The money will go to researchers through his Mission Lucidity project, which will finance the KU Leuven, Leuven university hospital, the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology and Imec, the spin-off for computer chip research.
“Brain diseases are particularly complex, which makes it essential for us to pool our expertise,” he told De Tijd newspaper. “Until now, in Belgium we were mainly focussed on research at the universities. But we also have to involve doctors and engineers, in order to discover the origins of dementia and make real breakthroughs.”
One of those breakthroughs, it is hoped, will be the development of wearables – computers worn by patients to examine the processes involved in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS or motor neuron disease, the condition suffered by the late Professor Stephen Hawking.
Vandeurzen is just the latest Flemish entrepreneur to invest heavily in medical research. Recently a group of about 20 captains of industry including Marc Coucke – creator of Omega Pharma and chairman of Anderlecht football club – and Christian Van Thillo, CEO of De Persgroep, which owns De Morgen as well as radio and TV stations, created a fund of €100 million to finance medical research into cancer treatments.
The Droia investment fund aims to attract another €50 million from outside investors for the research. Droia manager Janwillem Naesens told De Tijd: “The domain of oncology is now in a phase where mysteries are being solved. The latest treatments for leukemia, for example, mean that 90% of patients go into remission. True, many cancers are still not treatable, or only with difficulty. But we keep on making progress, cancer by cancer.”