What does it mean to make it in the north? This is part of a series of portraits of local people, organisations, and companies working to further Internationalise Groningen, Friesland, and Drenthe. This time we spoke to Ep Oosting, Managing Director at Ardena Bioanalysis (Ardena) in Assen. Ardena (formerly ABL BV) is a contract laboratory, which analyses the latest medicines in biological samples under instruction from some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.
By Thomas Ansell
As with all of the most exciting businesses, Ardena in Assen looks a little underwhelming from the outside. “We’re just in the process of expanding our premises, and soon, it will look like this…” says Ep Oosting, Managing Director, as he brandishes a scale model of a sleek new building. This building work will herald a new dawn for the company, with the expansion of its labs doubling thanks to the building work.
“We are a bioanalytical contract lab”, explains Ep. “We look into, for example the concentration of a drug under investigation in blood, and results are used for registrations with drug agencies.” This means that the Ardena laboratory in Assen is one of the most ‘quality-assured’ in the Netherlands, having to be fully compliant with Good Laboratory Practice standards, FDA standards, and EMA standards. “Something that you might not realise”, says Ep, “is that we are actually only one of several facilities in the Northern Netherlands that can do work like ours. Perhaps each lab has its own strength and unique capabilities, but as an ecosystem of labs we are quite outstanding.” Ardena’s specific expertise is in analytics of new drugs in biological materials, for example blood.
If you add all of these facilities, companies, and labs together, the Northern Netherlands is the largest bioanalytical testing lab in Europe. If you count by the number of liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry machines (LCMSMS, one of the shorter acronyms within the medical field), it is world-class. “We’re only beaten by some facilities in the Americas and East Asia, where they have warehouses full of them”, says Ep, laughing.
Whilst it might say ‘Ardena’ on the sign outside, the history of the laboratory lays in the 1960’s, when it was called ABL BV. The ABL labs moved about in Drenthe before settling in their current place in 1982. It was taken over by the Belgian company Ardena in 2017: but this has only increased its abilities, says Ep: “we can now be full-service”.
This ecosystem has been built up from the academic prowess of the North, and today companies like Ardena provide a rich bank of possible job opportunities. So too for International people in the North: “our reporting is in English, and science is a language that you can speak from any background. We have people who work here from both inside and outside the European Union, and that’s reflected in our company culture. It’s easy to fit in here”, says Ep.
Participating in the education system is high up Ardena’s list of priorities, as Ep says, “in the near future we will be helping teach courses and offering practical experience in our lab. All of the other companies and labs that do what we do are also moving towards this- because we all need graduates!” It’s not just scientists that are required, either, as Ep explains there is a large support network that backs up everything the scientists do, and this also needs fresh talent.
From left to right: Ep Oosting, Melloney Dröge (Technical Director) and Karel de Jonge (Operational Director)
So, what about making the North a more appealing place for people to live and work? “Well”, says Ep, “we need to show how good it is to live here better, and work toward more international links. There are lots of encouraging initiatives at the moment, but it’s also important to note that our industry isn’t back-stabbing; we don’t especially compete for staff, and we certainly don’t look at start-ups as a threat or issue”.
And those interested in joining this coalition of expertise? “We are expanding massively, and lots of other labs are too. If you are interested in bioanalytical services, we are open to you!”
Ardena Bioanalysis is in the process of expanding its buildings and facilities, and has a large number of clients both inside and outside of Europe. For more information, just head to www.ardena.com, and for more about Internationalising the North, or to see job vacancies at companies like Ardena, head to www.makeitinthenorth.nl.