“Bright minds in the global knowledge society are the drivers of new ideas and innovations,” Kerstin Radomski said when greeting her hosts at the BIH, Professor Christopher Baum, the Chair of the BIH Board of Directors and Chief Translational Research Officer of Charité, and Dr. Michael Frieser, Administrative Director of the BIH. “It’s very enriching and inspiring to exchange ideas and views with researchers,” she added. “Health research is and will remain one of the most important topics on our agenda, independently of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Professor Baum began by giving the visitor an introduction to the Institute, whose mission is medical translation: “We turn research into health,” Baum said, paraphrasing the BIH’s motto. “This involves transferring research findings into clinical practice and vice versa, using clinical observations to develop new ideas for research projects.” Baum stressed that various factors are essential to successful translation: On the one hand, of course, high-quality scientific and clinical research, which is not only carried out by the many research groups at the BIH quality but also regularly evaluated by the staff of the BIH QUEST Center to maximize its quality. But in addition, there is also a need for excellently trained clinician scientists who, as medically interested scientists or as scientifically ambitious physicians, understand both sides of translational research. The BIH ensures they receive the training they need through its successful Biomedical Innovation Academy.
From idea to spin-off
Dr. Michael Frieser emphasized that translation is completely successful only if clinical use on individual patients leads to broad application. “This requires technology transfer expertise that is capable of handling the scouting for ideas and inventions, the protection of such innovations, and finally the spin-off of a new company or the licensing of a technology, product, or service.” Actively scouting for ideas at an early stage is particularly important, he said, as it is still the case that a large proportion of potential inventions cannot be commercialized because they have already been published.
Thomas Gazlig, head of Charité BIH Innovation, the joint technology transfer office of Charité and the BIH, highlighted successful examples from the BIH Digital Health Accelerator, which guides digital ideas through to spin-off. For example, he presented an early warning system for intensive care units and a digital health wallet for Africa based on mobile phone data. Radomski welcomed the encouraging advances coming out of the BIH: “Only if technology transfer is quickly and vigorously pursued will our economy be able to hold its own in international competition. This provides the basis for good jobs in Germany.”
Important contributions to COVID-19 research
Professor Christof von Kalle, head of the joint Clinical Study Center of Charité and the BIH, provided insights into the impressive wealth of different clinical and scientific COVID-19 studies conducted at Charité and the BIH: “Most studies at Charité were carried out on the initiative of scientists. For example, studies are investigating the mechanism by which the virus enters the brain, how the immune system is thrown off course, which cells the virus attacks, or why children usually suffer less severe symptoms than adults. Through this research, Charité and the BIH have made important contributions to understanding the SARS-CoV-2 virus and combating the COVID-19 disease.”
Finally, Andrea Essenwanger, a research associate in the Core Facility Digital Medicine and Interoperability led by Professor Sylvia Thun, used illustrative examples to show the importance of standardizing medical data to Radomski. “Many physicians still write notes on paper regarding blood test results, drug prescriptions and disease progressions. In cases where such information is stored digitally, different operating systems or factors as simple as language habits often prevent it from being shared. Here standards are needed so that the best possible use can be made of the huge quantity of medical data that are gathered every day in hospitals and laboratories.” A standardized data set of COVID-19 patients has been developed by research teams led by Professor Christof von Kalle and Professor Sylvia Thun and is now being used across Germany and beyond.
Radomski was impressed by her visit to the BIH: “The BIH at Charité is making an important contribution to medical research in Germany. The still fledgling Institute has already achieved remarkable things in basic research but especially in the translation of new findings into clinical practice. I look forward to following and supporting the BIH’s continued progress.”