The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is represented by the DLR Project Management Agency (DLR-PT). Dr. Christina Müller and Dr Joachim Klein represent DLR-PT and BMBF respectively.
For the BMBF, education and research are the foundations on which we will build our future in a changing world. Research helps us discover the new and improve on the known. In a country whose prosperity draws on the innovative strength of its industry, excellence is a must, and it is through excellent research that we find solutions to global problems and devise strategies for sustainable growth. International cooperation is also key. Collaboration across borders is crucial in developing solutions to pressing health problems, which is why a number of BMBF’s most important contributions in the field are made to international initiatives.
“It is important for us to be part of GloPID-R because international collaboration is vital to fight pandemics, and this has never been as clear as now. Representing 21 countries and hopefully more in the future, GloPID-R can step up and become an international champion in research preparedness and response to pandemics to create bridges for synergistic collaboration.”
Dr. Manuela Rehtanz, DLR-PT
The outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 has clearly highlighted the importance of medical research and development. Germany enjoys a strong and diverse scientific landscape as well as an important biotech and pharmaceutical industry. Research on infectious diseases and zoonoses, which has long been a key funding area for the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), has been strengthened in recent years. This comprises project as well as institutional funding for renowned research institutions in the field and prepares the groundwork for further urgently needed funding decisions to address the pandemic.
The BMBF reacted quickly to the pandemic and further boosted its funding through national and international initiatives, building primarily on the R&D priorities set by the World Health Organization in February 2020. On a national level, Germany launched an early rapid response call aimed at reaching a better understanding of the virus, the early development of potential therapeutic approaches, and the ethical, social and legal aspects of non-pharmaceutical interventions.
The development of therapeutic approaches was further strengthened with a second funding call one year after the pandemic had started, focusing on the clinical development of COVID-19 therapeutics. Internationally, the BMBF has allocated additional funding to product development partnerships to expand work on therapeutic and diagnostic approaches to COVID-19, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) settings.
The development of safe and effective vaccines is at the core of Germany’s engagement. From the beginning of the pandemic, the German government has been committed to making vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics equally accessible to people worldwide.
By aligning national funding programs with international initiatives and providing substantial funding, the BMBF is making an important contribution to the fight against COVID-19.
BMBF is a founding member of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a member-observer of the GloPID-R network. BMBF has provided €350 million in additional funding for CEPI’s COVID-19 portfolio via the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A). Within the ACT-A, CEPI co-leads the vaccines pillar COVAX, along with Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO). In addition to COVAX, the ACT-A includes diagnostics, treatment and health system strengthening pillars, and ensures the development of vaccines, tests and treatments as well as their equitable access. It represents the central multilateral platform in battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, Germany is one of the leading financial supporters of the ACT-A, having provided €600 million in 2020 and recently committing to a further contribution of €1.5 billion.
To complement its international engagement, Germany has also maximized the national potential of vaccine research to accelerate the development of the country’s most promising vaccine candidates. Three vaccine candidates that are being developed by the companies BioNTech, CureVac and IDT Biologika have been selected for funding. To date, the approved COVID-19 vaccine BNT162b2, based on the German company BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA vaccine platform and developed and distributed together with the global pharmaceutical company Pfizer, has been the biggest success. In addition to the BioNTech vaccine, the German government funded preclinical work on another vector-based vaccine at the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF). This vaccine candidate has been taken up by IDT Biologika for further clinical development. The CureVac mRNA vaccine candidate, which is also part of the CEPI portfolio, is currently undergoing clinical phase III trials and has already initiated the rolling review process with the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
On the European level, the DZIF has taken the lead in establishing the new vaccine research network VACCELERATE. The network brings together 26 partner institutions from 21 European countries with the aim of coordinating, planning and harmonizing COVID-19 vaccine trials across different sites, which will not only facilitate future phase II and phase III trials for COVID-19 vaccines, but also prepare key groundwork for future pandemics.
In this context, the BMBF provided approximately €600,000 to establish the European Vaccine Trial Accelerator Platform (EUVAP). The platform is managed by the DZIF at the University of Cologne. It provides a structural base and is an essential component of the network VACCELERATE. EUPAV provides a Europe-wide mapping of experienced clinical trial sites interested in conducting COVID-19 vaccine trials. The platform can be used to bring individual sites into contact with clinical trial sponsors. It also helps match the characteristics of each site with the specific requirements of an individual trial.
In addition to being a founding member of CEPI, the BMBF has been one of the contributing member states in another GloPID-R member-observer organization, the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) since its beginning in 2003 and envisages continuing its support in the upcoming EDCTP3 partnership under the European Horizon Europe framework. The program is dedicated to combating poverty-associated, neglected infectious diseases (NTDs). Since its inception, EDCTP has developed a broad R&D portfolio to fight and prevent NTDs and emerging infections. Emphasis is placed on clinical trials of all phases and capacity building activities.
In 2016, as another one of its key contributions to health research, BMBF launched the Research Networks for Health Innovations in Sub-Saharan Africa, allocating €50 million for five years. Five networks, led by African coordinators and supported by their German counterparts, are working in 14 African countries and in Germany to fight neglected and poverty-related tropical diseases, to improve diagnostics and evidence-based healthcare and to build capacity in sub-Saharan Africa.
To offset the negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and to support the networks’ contribution to a national COVID-19 pandemic response, BMBF has granted additional funding to all of them. It has also extended the funding period to the end of 2022. Furthermore, all networks will have the opportunity to apply for a second five-year phase of funding in 2022. Looking ahead, BMBF hopes to see synergies through collaborative projects on overarching topics such as digital health and women’s health.
From 2017 to 2023, BMBF is also providing €40 million in funding for a national network on zoonotic infectious diseases. The network comprises seven interdisciplinary consortia and five junior research groups. Their work is focused on the transmission of pathogens from animals to humans and on the pandemic potential of zoonotic agents. It also includes the perspective of human and veterinary public health services. One of the funded consortia is working on MERS coronavirus and has made important contributions in the current COVID-19 outbreak in terms of prevention, diagnosis and treatment of coronavirus infections. Another consortium is working on the antibiotic resistance of a variety of bacteria in animals and humans. In addition to providing support for the consortia and junior research groups, the funding also covers a coordinating office, dedicated projects on human and veterinary public health services and networking projects. Thanks to the success of this funding initiative, BMBF envisages supporting more One Health activities in the future.
The GloPID-R Secretariat is a project which receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 874667.