The Federal Government and the Berlin Senate have reached an agreement on how to proceed with the Berlin Institute for Health Research (BIH). The institute, founded in 2013, could not develop the radiance that was desired and hoped for due to its previous organization. With the solution that has now been found, the BIH is moving closer to the Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin. There is uncertainty about the future role of the BIH co-founder MDC – Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine.
The administrative agreement between the Federal Ministry of Research (BMBF) and the Senate Chancellery – Science and Research of the State of Berlin has been in place since the beginning of April. As already indicated in 2018, it envisages establishing the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) as the third pillar of the Charité – Universitätsmedizin in addition to patient care, research and teaching. This lays the foundation for the necessary legislative changes at state level. With the BIH, the federal government and the state of Berlin are entering new scientific-political territory in the cooperation of university and non-university research institutions. The solution found now has to be approved by the GWK, the joint science conference of the federal and state governments. That should happen in July.
So far, the BIH was organized as the umbrella of the two affiliated bodies MDC – Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (part of the Helmholtz Association) and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. In the past, however, the BIH management could not agree on the profile of the BIH with the Charité and MDC. At first it was difficult to find a boss. With Erwin Böttinger, the post could only be filled prominently in 2015. But already in 2017 Böttinger moved to Potsdam to the newly founded digital engineering faculty of the University of Potsdam and the Hasso Plattner Institute. Better pay and better laboratory equipment at the BIH are said to have caused displeasure among the Charité colleagues.
According to the new organization, the MDC will no longer be part of the BIH, but only a privileged partner. Martin Lohse, Scientific Director at the MDC, was pleased “that we can contribute our expertise, for example in vascular medicine and single-cell biology at the BIH, so that it can be applied as quickly as possible in the clinic in Berlin.” he warned that it still has to be clarified what “privileged partnership” means – also financially. “We all need planning security – to bring international researchers to Berlin and give them attractive prospects, and also for our employees who are already there,” emphasized Lohse. “We are more than willing to continue to use the excellent technology platforms set up at the MDC together with the BIH and to develop them further together – to use them together and also to finance them in this way,” Lohse continued.
In a statement, Lohse also recalled the MDC’s contribution to the establishment of the BIH. The MDC played a key role in bringing the angiogenesis specialist Holger Gerhardt from London to Berlin. Gerhardt’s work at the MDC is the backbone of the planned vascular focus at BIH. Lohse named the cooperation between Angelika Eggert (Charité) and Matthias Selbach (MDC) as another successful project. Together they are looking for new ways to detect and treat neuroblastoma. They are looking for molecular signatures that allow statements to be made about the properties of the tumor and the mechanisms of metastasis. The MDC also plays an important role for the BIH in terms of technology platforms. These platforms are integrated into the MDC’s existing infrastructure and can draw on the expertise of MDC scientists and their networks. Lohse cited Sebastian Diecke’s platform on pluripotent stem cells as an example. This supports groups that need patient-specific disease models.
The Berlin Institute for Health Research is a scientific institution for translation and precision medicine. Here, new approaches for better predictions and novel therapies are being developed to give people back their quality of life or to maintain it. With translational research, the BIH aims to pave the way for benefit-oriented personalized healthcare. The BIH is funded 90 percent by the Federal Ministry of Research (BMBF) and 10 percent by the Berlin Senate Administration.