What is the secret to successful translation? DFG issues statement and organizes symposium in Berlin with the BIH

Translation is the key focus at the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH). The aim is to transfer promising results from the laboratory to clinical practice, and to use observations from daily clinical routine as inspiration for new research ideas. For this to happen, certain conditions must be in place. The German Research Foundation (DFG) has presented recommendations on how to create such conditions, and discussed them at a Berlin symposium organized with the BIH.


Announcing that “without effective translation, we will be unable to overcome the challenges of demographic change,” Professor Heyo K. Kroemer, Chairman of the Executive Board of the Charité, chose powerful words with which to open the symposium entitled “Funding of Translational Research in University Medicine.” Kroemer is a member of the Translation working group of the DFG’s Permanent Senate Commission on Key Questions in Clinical Research. The group has now presented its recommendations on promoting translational research in university hospitals. “We need better medicines, new procedures, and digital applications. And we need to get the good lab results into clinical practice faster,” said Kroemer.

His comments address an obvious problem in (German) university research. It takes an average of 15 years and a billion euros for a good idea to become, for instance, a new cancer drug – and only around 10 percent of all projects actually end in success. “We need a translational ecosystem that provides the specific conditions for this type of research,” said Professor Axel R. Pries, Chairman of the BIH Executive Board, and Dean of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. He explained that the BIH is working on creating this environment: “It requires suitable infrastructure, researchers and physicians who are trained in translation and enthusiastic about it, and the right kind of mindset in university hospitals. We have to facilitate, promote, and reward translation.”

The symposium, which the DFG organized in collaboration with the BIH Center for Regenerative Therapies (BCRT), provided a platform for presentations and discussions about these factors. Professor Hans-Dieter Volk, director of the BCRT, explained the role that young researchers play in translational research. On their way to becoming doctors, he said, medical students must be introduced to research early on, and later given enough space to pursue research in addition to their clinical activities. The clinician-scientist programs, such as the one run by the BIH, achieve this in an exemplary manner, said Volk. On the topic of suitable infrastructure, Professor Christof von Kalle, BIH Chair for Clinical Translational Sciences, presented the BIH’s Clinical Research Units at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. The units support the running of clinical studies. He also mentioned the Core Facilities, which offer state-of-the-art technologies as a service. Professor Petra Reinke used the Berlin Center for Advanced Therapies (BeCAT) at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin to present technical opportunities for producing innovative cell-based drugs under conditions that meet the high standards of clinical medicine.

The closing panel session saw participants discuss ways of creating incentives for translational research. The usual “reward systems” for researchers, such as being published in journals or attracting third-party funding, only partially apply to translational research. “If you only publish two articles in five years in journals with a fairly low impact factor, that can be fatal for your career,” said Professor Marion Subklewe from the University Hospital Munich. One cannot, she explained, compare a 100-meter sprinter with a marathon runner. Pries agrees: “We have to think in longer time frames. Translational research isn’t about getting published – it’s about ensuring patient well-being. And even the path to achieving this must be worthwhile for everyone involved.”

Professor Georg Duda, head of the Translation working group at the DFG and director of the Julius Wolff Institute for Biomechanics and Musculoskeletal Regeneration at the Charité, gave a detailed presentation of the recommendations agreed by the DFG in its position paper. One recommendation called on university hospitals to establish a translation-focused culture that would develop suitable evaluation mechanisms for translational activities and result in a “translation mindset.” Another recommendation called on Germany’s federal and state policymakers to provide “translation hubs.” These would be research infrastructures that – equipped with suitable, qualified staff and financial resources – would provide professional support to translation in fields ranging from cell therapy to digitalization. Regulatory authorities should ideally agree on uniform frameworks for areas such as study approval criteria and data protection. “Our goal is to sustainably strengthen translationally focused research in Germany. The task of university hospitals is, after all, to conduct research that reaches the patient.”

Information about the symposium: Link.

The statement “Recommendations for Funding of Translational Research in University Medicine”
can be downloaded here.
(available in German only)