“We belong together!”
On January 1, 2021, the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) will become the translational research unit of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and will then form – alongside the hospital and the medical faculty – Charité’s third pillar. The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) will become the Privileged Partner of the BIH. Through this novel science policy initiative, the federal government will be structurally involved for the first time in an institution of a university medical center and will have a seat on Charité’s Supervisory Board.
German Research Minister Anja Karliczek explains: “The integration of the BIH into Charité will finally become reality at the turn of the year. We are placing great hope in this new structure, which closely links together medical research and clinical practice. I would like to thank all those involved for their commitment and dedication to implementing the integration over the past months. We are all very excited about the research activities. I wish the BIH, Charité and the Max Delbrück Center much success with their joint cooperation. I am convinced that this alliance will become a national and international beacon for translational biomedical research.”
Governing Mayor of Berlin and Senator for Science and Research Michael Müller says: “The integration of the BIH into Charité will greatly benefit medical research and the healthcare hub of Berlin, but above all patients all across Germany. The path was not always easy, but it was always right to pursue this goal. I would therefore like to warmly thank everyone who in the past months has helped bring this process to a successful conclusion. The fact that the federal government is so strongly committed to a state institution on a permanent basis and that we are all working in unison is not something that can be taken for granted and is a sign of confidence in the outstanding work that is being done at Charité, the BIH and the MDC.”
Professor Christopher Baum will in the future represent the BIH in Charité’s Board of Directors as Board Member responsible for the translational research unit. He welcomes the integration for he is convinced that translational medicine depends on close interaction between research and clinical care. “We belong together, but at the same time we will maintain our special identity and purpose. We are working together for the benefit of patients who urgently need new medical approaches. Both perspectives – that of today’s clinical care practices and that of tomorrow’s medicines – stimulate our scientific work.”
Professor Heyo K. Kroemer, Chief Executive Officer of Charité, welcomes the BIH as the third pillar for translational research within Charité: “I look forward to working with the BIH to further advance the translation of research findings into clinical care for our patients and to fruitfully use the synergies between Charité and the BIH. Yet the integration is not only important for us, but has the potential to serve as a blueprint for future federal-state cooperation in supporting research. Special thanks are especially due to Axel Pries, who over the past years has not only been deeply committed to this project, but has also played a key role in driving it forward.”
Professor Axel Radlach Pries, Dean of Charité, served for two years, until early October 2020, as interim Chief Executive Officer of the BIH. He looks with satisfaction on what has been achieved and with much anticipation to the next phase: “Integrating the BIH into Charité and establishing the Privileged Partnership with the MDC has required very extensive coordination between our three institutions. The implementation of the administrative agreement can now be concluded as planned and without any notable problems. Parallel to this process, the BIH has established new structures, made dynamic scientific progress and attracted outstanding researchers to Berlin. I therefore have no doubt that going forward the BIH will be successful as the Charité’s third pillar.”
Professor Thomas Sommer, interim Scientific Director of the MDC, says: “I very much look forward to the close collaboration. As a bridge between basic research and clinical practice, the BIH is the ideal partner for us in Berlin. Our scientists provide innovative capabilities in vascular biomedicine and single cell analysis and help advance technology facilities. The MDC, the BIH and Charité want to further develop the idea of a translational research commons focused on improving the well-being of patients. Our close links will give the healthcare hub of Berlin a boost.”
Turning research into health
The mission of the BIH, which was founded in 2013, is to transfer basic research findings to the patient’s bedside and, vice versa, to use clinical observations to develop new research ideas. In the past this has already required close collaboration between the BIH, Charité and the MDC. For example, Charité and the BIH jointly run the Clinical Study Center (CSC) in order to significantly improve the quality of all clinical studies and together with other partners have launched the BIH Charité Clinician Scientist Program to train a new generation of scientists with translational training. The technology transfer unit BIH Innovations is also a joint undertaking by the two institutions. During the coronavirus pandemic, BIH researchers have teamed up with Charité scientists and physicians to make valuable discoveries in the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 disease. Their findings have been published in leading scientific journals.
“The trusting collaboration between Charité and the BIH, as well as the MDC, is not only tried and tested, but also works excellently,” says Professor Kroemer. “The successful application of our three institutions to be a location of the National Center for Tumor Diseases in Berlin is an expression of this. Now it’s a matter of optimizing the framework conditions even further to create the best environment for translational research.”
Promoting translation nationwide
With its integration into Charité, the BIH has also received a mandate from the federal government to support promising translational projects throughout Germany. “We are delighted to take on this mandate,” says Christopher Baum. “And here, in particular, I see us playing a role in rare and complex diseases, for which we want to specifically expand the possibilities of university medicine.” Baum also wants to further develop translation into an exact science whose results can not only be measured quantitatively and objectively but also reproduced. “That will be necessary in order to identify those projects that are most promising and take the best possible next steps in each case,” he explains. Here the BIH Quest Center has already done crucial groundwork to raise the quality of biomedical research.
Single cells, blood vessels and regenerative medicine
The BIH has established three focus areas in collaboration with Charité and the MDC, selecting areas that link up excellent research approaches with clinical expertise. The focus area “Single Cell Technologies for Personalized Medicine” aims to use innovative single cell technologies to answer clinical research questions, while the focus area “Translational Vascular Biomedicine” seeks to gain a better understanding of how malfunctions in the smallest of blood vessels are responsible for many common diseases. Through the full takeover of the BCRT, the BIH Center for Regenerative Therapies, from 2021 and the cooperation with the German Stem Cell Network (GSCN), the BIH will conduct research in particular in the field of stem cell research and advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) and translate its findings into practice.
Multiple locations for the BIH
The integration of the BIH into Charité will increase the number of scientific teams belonging to the BIH from 43 at present to 58; by the end of 2021 this number will be 71. The BIH will then have around 400 employees, who will be spread across multiple locations: Starting in March, the scientific teams working on vascular biomedicine will move into the Käthe Beutler Building in Berlin-Buch, in the immediate vicinity of the Privileged Partner, the MDC. In this building, named after a Jewish pediatrician and researcher, BIH and MDC teams will work together under one roof. In the Outpatient, Translation and Innovation Center (Ambulanz-, Translations- und Innovationszentrum – ATIZ) in Berlin-Mitte, which celebrated its topping-out ceremony in July 2020 and is scheduled for completion in early 2022, teams involved in digital medicine, such as the BIH Digital Health Center, and other research groups will work together with experts from Charité. ATIZ will also house the joint Clinical Study Center. The single cells focus area will be based at the MDC’s Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB), which is also located in Berlin-Mitte. The scientific teams working in the field of regenerative medicine will primarily carry out research at the Charité Campus Virchow Clinic in Berlin-Wedding, on the premises of the BCRT. The BIH Digital Health Accelerator will move into new offices at Zirkus in Berlin-Mitte at the beginning of 2021.