“We complement each other perfectly”
Who will be working at the Käthe Beutler Building in the future?
The building being constructed here will contain around 2,500 square meters of floor space and bring together basic research, clinical research, and technology platforms under one roof. When different disciplines work closely together, a special atmosphere is created that fosters mutual support and helps everyone to advance further. That is our goal with the BIH. We want to recruit excellent international researchers to complement and enhance BIH and MDC research groups. Incidentally, the new campus building will stand directly next to the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC) of the MDC and Charité. The ECRC has long been the site of collaboration between basic researchers and clinicians, which essentially forms the basis of the BIH. We are building on this existing expertise in patient-oriented research.
What are the costs associated with the new building?
The costs for the design by Berlin architectural office Kleyer.Koblitz.Letzel.Freivogel amount to €24.3 million for the BIH – 90 percent of which comes from the federal government and ten percent from the state. This is a much-needed investment that will strengthen our tried-and-tested partnership. It will give the BIH a central location and physical presence here on the Buch campus and will enable the expansion of joint patient-oriented research.
Cooperation between the MDC and Charité under the umbrella of the BIH is already going very well. What are you and the MDC particularly proud of?
I would like to give three examples. We are very proud that the MDC and BIH have jointly succeeded in attracting internationally renowned scientists to Berlin. One such scientist is Holger Gerhardt who works here on the campus. He is investigating ways to influence the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). This process plays a role in a variety of diseases such as cancer or diabetic retinopathy, but is also a factor in chronic wounds. To further develop the BIH, we need researchers like him who bring professional excellence to the institute and have the ability to attract and integrate more people.
We are equally proud of a cancer immunology project led jointly by Thomas Blankenstein (MDC) and Peter Klötzel (Charité). It builds on decades of work here at the MDC and is the only project of its kind in the world. The basic idea is as follows: First, the genome of the primary tumor is analyzed and mutated antigens are identified that can make the cancer visible to the immune system. The T-cells of the cancer patient are then genetically modified to enable them to recognize and destroy the cancer cells. This can be effective with many different types of cancer. An initial phase 1 clinical trial for multiple myeloma is set to get underway soon. The BIH-funded consortium led by Thomas Blankenstein and Peter Klötzel is now looking for other antigens that might be suitable for this sort of cancer therapy. Without basic research such as this, we wouldn’t discover anything truly innovative for translation!
My third example would be the technology platforms we have established for the BIH that are based on existing structures at the MDC. This is an important initiative for translational research. Even with very ambitious projects, these platforms provide the necessary infrastructure for analytical and technical questions. And this, too, was only possible because the technology platforms themselves did not start from scratch. They are integrated into existing MDC infrastructures and can draw on the expertise of MDC scientists and their networks. Take Philipp Mertins, for example, who joined us from the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to lead the Proteomics Platform at the MDC and BIH. Or Sebastian Diecke: With his Pluripotent Stem Cells Platform, he supports research groups that need patient-specific disease models.
In your view, why does the Max Delbrück Center’s and Charité’s partnership within the BIH benefit everyone, including the city of Berlin?
The Governing Mayor of Berlin Michael Müller has said that he wants to develop Berlin into the leading healthcare hub in Europe. Through their very different profiles and competencies, the MDC and Charité are both doing everything they can to help achieve this aim. We can complement each other perfectly. Just this year, an intensive evaluation confirmed that the MDC is one of the world’s leading biomedical research institutes. Internationality is an everyday experience for us ‒ roughly half of our researchers are from outside Germany. Multidisciplinary collaboration is also a matter of course at the MDC. This is because our work doesn’t focus on individual organs, but instead seeks to uncover overarching disease mechanisms. As Europe’s largest university hospital, Charité is also active in a wide range of areas – in terms of both clinical practice and research activity. It will therefore be possible within the BIH to enhance the translational bridge in many disciplines. This requires a good foundation on both sides: basic researchers with an interest in clinical practice, and clinicians who find basic research exciting. Thomas Blankenstein’s project is an outstanding example of this.
Jutta Kramm and Jana Schlütter conducted the interview.