Interview: Caroline Schmutte, Head of the Wellcome Trust foundation office in Berlin


At the beginning of 2019, the British foundation Wellcome Trust opened an office in Berlin, thus expanding its activities to Germany. The first project funded by the foundation in Germany is a translation partnership with the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin. The Foundation deliberately chose Berlin as its location because networking with key players in the life sciences sector is best possible here.

We spoke with the head of the German office Caroline Schmutte about current projects and the Berlin-Brandenburg location.


As one of the largest medical foundations, the range of research fields in which the Wellcome Trust invests is correspondingly wide. Which topics are currently of most interest to you?

In Germany, we have decided - also due to the priorities set by the German government - to give priority to research into epidemics and antibiotic resistance. Science transfer is also important to us. At the same time, we want to put other topics on the agenda soon: since this year, the Wellcome Trust has been funding a great deal of active research into which mental health measures can help young people in particular - this is an area that also has great potential for Germany.


What motivated you to open an office in Berlin?

Germany has increased its commitment to global health in recent years. For the Wellcome Trust, Germany is therefore an important strategic partner in driving progress in global health. With the Berlin office, we can network with a wide range of local actors from politics, society and science and form further alliances. Like Germany, the Wellcome Trust supports international initiatives such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). We have also been involved in many political formats, such as the International Advisory Council on Global Health at the German Federal Ministry of Health or the Global Health Hub. Last but not least, we see our participation in the World Health Summit as a good opportunity to bring together German and international players on the central challenges for global health. 

At the same time, Germany offers a research landscape that is unparalleled worldwide. As a foundation that has so far been active primarily in the United Kingdom, we need to learn more about what is already happening in Germany in the research areas that are important to us - and where future potential lies. 

With your funding initiatives you are represented in the most important research regions on six continents. How do you see the Berlin-Brandenburg region by international comparison?


I see networking and exchange as one of the central tasks of our office. The Berlin/Brandenburg region is home to numerous institutes of health research as well as well-known players such as the Charité or the Hasso Plattner Institute, which focuses on digital health. With the Health City 2025, the State of Berlin has also set itself the task of promoting the health cluster and developing Berlin into a model region. From our point of view, this is an important platform that brings together all players, from universities to foundations and start-ups. In our view, the formation of such a cluster has enormous innovation potential that can have an impact far beyond the region. 


The first concrete project in Berlin is a translation partnership with the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and the Charité. Can you tell us a little more about it?

The BIH and the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin are the first institutions in Germany to be supported by the British Wellcome Trust within the framework of a translation partnership. The aim is to find new ways to transfer biomedical research results into new technologies, medical devices or treatment options. The fundamental aim is to maximise the possibilities for medical translation for the benefit of patients and society. The BIH and the Charité will receive 1.1 million euros for their project.