(I&I) Immunology & Inflammation – A Virtual Symposium on Covid-19

The Helmholtz Association consortium for Immunology and Inflammation (I&I) organizes the international I&I Symposium on Covid-19 to report and discuss the latest findings related to SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Covid-19 pandemic. The symposium will comprise five talks on key aspects of SARS-CoV-2/Covid-19, each presented by an international expert in the relevant topic.

This event is free of charge. Registration is required.



Virtual Meeting via Zoom





3:00 pm Welcome Note
Klaus Rajewsky and Michela Di Virgilio, Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine

3:10 pm Modeling the pandemic
Michael Meyer-Hermann, Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research 

Chair: Mathias Heikenwälder, German Cancer Research Center

3:55 pm Coronaviruses: Old and New
Susan R. Weiss, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania      

Chair: Michela Di Virgilio, Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine

4:40 pm Genetic and immunological causes of life-threatening COVID-19
Jean-Laurent Casanova, The Rockefeller University, HHMI 

Chair: Eicke Latz, German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases

5:25 pm Break

5:40 pm Humoral immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccination
Michel C. Nussenzweig, The Rockefeller University, HHMI   

Chair: Ralf Bartenschlager, German Cancer Research Center

6:25 pm BNT162 Covid-19 mRNA vaccine: Immunological basis and beyond
Ugur Sahin, BioNTech    

Chair: Klaus Rajewsky, Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine

7:15 pm General Discussion    

Introduced and moderated by Christian Drosten, Charité Universitätsmedizin – Berlin

7:45 pm End of Symposium



Michael Meyer-Hermann


Michael Meyer-Hermann

Michael Meyer-Hermann studied Physics, Mathematics, and Philosophy in Frankfurt/Main and Paris and accomplished his Ph.D. in Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics in Frankfurt/Main. He initiated new research groups for Systems Immunology in Dresden (Germany), Oxford (UK) and at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS). Since 2010 Michael Meyer-Hermann is a professor at the Technical University of Braunschweig and head of the department of Systems Immunology at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig (Germany). In addition to developing new methods in Theoretical Cell Biology, his research aims at understanding the adaptive immune system and the interaction of the immune and the nervous system. He wants to establish mathematical methods as state-of-the-art tool in Biology and Immunology to improve research of diseases and therapies. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany, models based on an extended SEIR model and agent-based models were developed in his group that received broad public attention and supported political decisions.


Susan R. Weiss


Susan Weiss

Susan Weiss obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology from Harvard University working on paramyxoviruses and did postdoctoral training in retroviruses at University of California, San Francisco with J. Michael Bishop and Harold Varmus. She moved to the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1980, where she established her research program in coronaviruses and where she is currently Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Microbiology and Co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Diseases. She has worked on many aspects of coronavirus replication and pathogenesis over the last 40 years, making contributions to understanding the basic biology, as well as organ tropism and virulence. She has worked with murine coronavirus (MHV), MERS-CoV and, most recently, SARS-CoV-2. Her work for the last 10 years has focused on coronavirus interaction with the host innate immune response and viral innate antagonists of double-stranded RNA induced antiviral pathways. Her other research interests include activation and antagonism of the antiviral oligoadenylate-ribonuclease L (OAS-RNase L) pathway, flavivirus- primarily Zika- virus-host interactions and pathogenic effects of host endogenous dsRNA.


Jean-Laurent Casanova


Jean-Laurent Casanova

Jean-Laurent Casanova received his M.D. from the University of Paris Descartes in 1987 and his Ph.D. in immunology from the University of Paris Pierre and Marie Curie in 1992. After completing a residency in pediatrics and a clinical fellowship in pediatric immunology-hematology, he was appointed a professor of pediatrics at the Necker Medical School in Paris. There he cofounded and codirected the Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases in 1999. He was appointed professor at The Rockefeller University in 2008 and named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator in 2014. Casanova studies how human genes determine the clinical manifestations and outcome of primary infections by viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. He searches for single-gene mutations that selectively compromise the immunity of otherwise healthy children and adults who are exquisitely vulnerable to specific infectious diseases, including the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). He thus characterizes the molecular, cellular, and immunological mechanisms of life-threatening infectious diseases. Revealing such monogenic holes in protective immunity has important clinical implications, in terms of diagnosis and treatment, and has important biological significance, by delineating the essential and redundant functions of human genes in host defense.


Michel C. Nussenzweig


Michel Nussenzweig

Michel Nussenzweig’s career of pioneering research began with his PhD at The Rockefeller University, in which he showed for the first time that dendritic cells present foreign antigens to initiate T cell immunity. He also received an M.D. from New York University Medical School and completed his internship and residency in internal medicine, and a clinical fellowship in infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital. Before returning to The Rockefeller University in 1990, he did postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical School. Nussenzweig’s laboratory studies the molecular aspects of the immune system’s innate and adaptive responses using a combination of biochemistry, molecular biology, and genetics. For work on adaptive immunity, he focuses on B lymphocytes and antibodies to HIV-1, while his studies of innate immunity focus on dendritic cells. His work is leading to new antibody-based therapies for infections by HIV and the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, among other viruses. During his distinguished career, Nussenzweig has received many awards, including the American Association of Immunologists Meritorious Career Award (2004), the Robert Koch Award (2016) and the Sanofi-Institut Pasteur Award (2017).


Ugur Sahin


Ugur Sahin

Ugur Sahin, M.D., Co-Founder and CEO of BioNTech, is a physician, immunologist and leader in the development of novel approaches to fight cancer and infectious diseases. Sahin is one of the world’s foremost experts on mRNA medicines. He has pioneered several breakthroughs enabling the development of mRNA vaccines and other types of immunotherapies. Sahin initiated and oversees “Project Lightspeed,” the historic development of the first mRNA vaccine for COVID-19, moving from lab and clinical testing to conditional approval within an unprecedented 11-month period. He also leads BioNTech’s research and development of neoantigen specific mRNA cancer vaccines which are individually tailored and produced on demand according to the profile of non-synonymous mutations identified by next-generation sequencing in patients’ tumors. Ugur Sahin is co-inventor of more than 500 filed patents applications and patents. Sahin’s academic credentials include serving as a Full Professor (W3) in Translational Oncology & Immunology at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. He also holds the role of Chairman of the Scientific Management Board of the Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON).


Christian Drosten


Christian Drosten

Christian Drosten studied medicine at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main. He received his doctorate degree in 2003 at the Institute for transfusion medicine and immunohaematology at University of Frankfurt, establishing a high-throughput system for testing blood donors. From June 2000, Drosten worked in the virology department of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) in Hamburg. His laboratory group “Molecular Diagnostics” focussed on virus discovery and molecular diagnostics of tropical viral diseases. From 2007, Drosten headed the Institute of Virology at University of Bonn - Medical Center. In 2017, he moved to Charité in Berlin, where he is currently the Director of the Institute of Virology. He was a member of the German Ministry of Health’s International Advisory Board on Global Health from 2017-2019. Drosten co-discovered SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV), for which he developed one of the first diagnostic tests in 2003. Most recently, his work focuses on SARS-CoV-2: In January 2020 he co-published a workflow of a RT-PCR diagnostic test that was approved and distributed by the WHO. During the ongoing pandemic, he has been consulting German federal and state authorities and was appointed to the European Commission's advisory panel on Covid-19.



Klaus Rajewsky (Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine)

Michela Di Virgilio (Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine)

Mathias Heikenwälder (German Cancer Research Center)

Ulrich Kalinke (Helmholtz Center for Infection Research)

Carsten Schmidt-Weber (Helmholtz Center Munich)



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