"Pacesetters in health research"

10 Years of DZG

Four of six German Centres for Health Research (DZG) celebrated their tenth anniversary today with a ceremony in Berlin and around 300 guests from the worlds of politics and science. Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger, Hessian Science Minister Angela Dorn, Berlin State Secretary of Health Dr Thomas Götz, former Federal Research Minister Annette Schavan, Prof. Christian Drosten and BioNTech Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer Prof. Özlem Türeci offered their congratulations at the event and digitally.

Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger congratulated the DZGs with a message of greeting on their 10th anniversary: "The German Centres for Health Research have been doing valuable work in the fight against widespread diseases such as cancer for ten years. They bundle research and ensure that new scientific findings on prevention, diagnosis and therapies quickly benefit patients. Basic research and clinical research work closely together as a matter of course. This makes the centres pacesetters in health research."

Around half a million people are diagnosed with cancer every year in Germany. Almost 1.8 million cases of cardiovascular disease have to be treated in hospitals every year. Statistically, one person dies in Germany every four minutes due to lung disease and infectious diseases have shaken Germany, with more than 25 million COVID-19 infections and almost 140,000 deaths to date. With an ageing population and the global mobility and interconnectivity of humankind, the burden of widespread diseases on health systems continues to increase.

For this reason, results from research must reach people quickly. With this mission, the DZG are dedicated to cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases, cancer, infectious diseases, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. They were founded on the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) initiative to confront widespread diseases. Four of six DZG are celebrating anniversaries this year – the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK), German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), German Centre for Lung Research (DZL) and German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF).

Hessian Science Minister Angela Dorn also congratulated the DZG with a message of greeting: "The coronavirus pandemic has shown how important it is to rapidly bring research results into clinical practice and in an interdisciplinary way. This also applies to widespread diseases, which cause huge suffering and have enormous health and economic implications. The DZGs make a decisive contribution to ensuring that results from basic research are translated more quickly into prevention, diagnosis and therapy, therefore benefitting people. Many thanks for this work, and all the best for your anniversary!"

The Berlin State Secretary for Health, Dr Thomas Götz, said at the anniversary event in Berlin: "From the very beginning, the German Centers for Health Research quickly established the trust of the research landscape in the new network model, in the scientific approaches, in the cooperation and their structures. Today we can say that the DZG are excellent research network entities. They have also succeeded in uniting leading minds from respective fields behind the idea of the DZG - also because of the immense translational potential it holds."'

Prof. Dr Werner Seeger, current spokesperson of the German Centers for Health Research and Chairman of the Board DZL, said: "The DZGs start where promising research results still get stuck far too often - between the lab and the patient's bedside. These phases of research are time-consuming, expensive and often marked by setbacks. They do not bring quick scientific fame and are sometimes referred to as the 'valley of death'. In the last ten years, the DZG have been able to build bridges across this valley so that research reaches the people who need it most."

In 2020, the first drug for chronic hepatitis D and a new heart valve technology were approved in Europe. New drugs to treat various forms of pulmonary hypertension and better individualised cancer therapies are also successes in which DZG scientists played a leading role. These examples show how basic and clinical research can be combined to provide patients with improved diagnostic options and therapies.

In the future, the individual centres want to strengthen cooperation, says Seeger. "Our goal is for the DZGs to move together in research to make even better use of synergy potential." A significant step in this direction is the DZG Innovation Fund, a research funding programme supported by all DZGs, which will be announced for the first time in 2022. In addition, the DZGs continue to work intensively on supporting their young scientists in the balancing act between clinic and research and exchanging their research data and biosamples based on common standards.

Prof. Dr Christian Drosten, a scientist at the German Centre for Infection Research, said that the translational gap is a real challenge. Closing this gap costs money and takes patience. He wished for continuity from politics and stressed that communication between science and politics must become a permanent process.

Prof. Dr Özlem Türeci, BioNTech/German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research/HI-TRON, said: "Today's ceremony recognises the achievements of the DZG in improving healthcare in Germany. This commitment has helped to ensure that innovation reaches patients quickly. The better our country sets itself up today through complementary structures to promote translation, i.e. the efficient bridging of research to application, the more robustly we are positioned for the medicine of tomorrow."

Dr. h.c. mult. Annette Schavan, under whose leadership the BMBF initiated the establishment of the six centres between 2009 and 2012, recalled the beginnings and now emphasised: "European alliances are important, especially since the issues surrounding common diseases are comparable in the countries of Europe. The first alliances have been formed. Europe should have the ambition to be the continent with the best support for talent in research."

About the German Centres for Health Research

The six German Centres for Health Research aim to combat widespread diseases effectively. Several thousand basic researchers, clinical researchers and physicians work in Germany's most prominent health research network to bring medical progress to patients quickly. They are looking for ways to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the major common diseases cancer, dementia, diabetes, infections, and cardiovascular and lung diseases - across research disciplines and organisations. Ninety non-university and university partner institutions in 37 cities are members of the DZG.

The centres were established between 2009 and 2012 on the initiative of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The federal government and 13 federal states fund the DZGs with around 270 million euros annually. The focus of all DZG is on translating research results into clinical practice.

The six German Centres for Health Research are:

  • German Cancer Consortium (DKTK)
  • German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK)
  • German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF)
  • German Centre for Lung Research (DZL)
  • German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD)
  • German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
  • Two more centres for paediatric and adolescent medicine and for mental health are being planned.

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