The Netherlands’ Society of Gene Therapy (NVGT) was established on March 3, 1999, largely initiated by Winald Gerritsen, its first president and since 2005 honorary member. Aims of the Society included facilitation of the exchange of information and technology, improving communication towards the public and providing education within the professional community. However, a major aim not included with so many words in the bylaws was raising public funding for research projects, for which Winald lobbied up to the Dutch Parliament. Eventually these efforts were successful in that Els Borst-Eilers in 2002, on her last day as Minster of Public Health, approved governmental funding to be made available through the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development ZonMw. Fifteen projects were funded from the budget of 15.8 M€ in the Translational Gene Therapy Research Program, running from 2003-2016, which of course were not cost-effective and in need of other funding as well, particularly from the European Union’s Framework Programs.
To meet its aims, the Society organizes conferences, presently the annual Spring Symposium, while in 2007 and 2014 the Society hosted the annual conference of the European Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ESGCT) in, respectively, the Rotterdam Conference Center “De Doelen” and the The Hague Convention Center “World Forum”. The 2007 conference marked the revival of gene therapy and increased public interest, as became also evident by twice the number of participants in the 2014 conference relative to 2007. In addition, the Society is represented in several governmental advisory boards in the areas of biotechnology and medicine development and maintains this informative website.
In 2003 Lex van der Eb became a honorary member of the Society, to be followed by Dick van Bekkum at its 15th anniversary celebrated at the 2014 Spring Symposium. Van der Eb’s laboratory in Leiden demonstrated efficient transfer of DNA into target cells, which is the basis of gene therapy, and Van Bekkum’s Radiobiological Institute in Rijswijk developed hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, basic to both cell therapy and stem cell gene therapy.
In 2011, the Society became The Netherlands’ Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (NVGCT) following similar changes by the American and European Societies and by many of the European national societies, and made membership of the Society accessible to relevant companies. At the occasion of the 2014 ESGCT conference in The Hague, Human Gene Therapy published its October issue entitled “Anniversary Issue on Gene and Cell Therapy in The Netherlands”, which gives a nearly complete overview of the Dutch activities and achievements in this area of science.
In summary, over the last 19 years the Society has been successful in connecting scientists, clinicians, patients, public and government in developing gene and cell therapy for diseases with so far unmet medical needs.