A festive atmosphere in the life sciences research building on the Ulm University Campus: on Wednesday 19th October, Ulm University and Boehringer Ingelheim signed a research cooperation agreement. The cooperation between academia and industry is also being supported by the Baden-Württemberg government. The new alliance is called “Boehringer Ingelheim Ulm University Biocenter” (BIU) and the funding volume is around 4.5 million euros for an initial period of three years.
Well-known representatives from science, industry and politics witnessed the signing of the cooperation agreement between the University of Ulm and Boehringer Ingelheim, two organisations that are located very close to one another. The largest research site of the family-owned company Boehringer Ingelheim in Biberach is no more than 30 minutes by car from the Ulm University Campus. In the past, cooperation between the two organisations has been restricted to individual projects.
The list of speakers underlines the importance of BIU for the partners: Andreas Barner, spokesperson of the management of Boehringer Ingelheim, Science Minister Theresia Bauer and the entire university management board celebrated the signing of the “public-private partnership” agreement, which was first mooted in 2003.“I am delighted at the prospect of what looks like being a long-term partnership between the University of Ulm and Boehringer Ingelheim, which will thus continue to bring its strength and experience to this partnership with the university. The cooperation strengthens the further development and intensification of the extraordinarily successful scientific cooperation in the field of pharmaceutical biotechnology in the Ulm Bioregion and opens up new strategies for the Graduate School of Molecular Medicine, which is funded under the German government’s Excellence Initiative,” said Ulm University President Karl Joachim Ebeling, going on to refer to the master’s course in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology and the doctoral study course the University of Ulm offers in cooperation with Biberach University of Applied Sciences. “This is a big day for the University and the University Hospital of Ulm,” said Eberling, clearly delighted with the cooperation agreement.
Science Minister Theresia Bauer praised the strategic partnership between the University of Ulm and Boehringer Ingelheim, and she pointed out that this cooperation will promote the location and strengthen the profile of the Ulm biopharmaceutical region, in addition to the existing BiopharmaXX cluster that is funded by the EU and the Baden-Württemberg state government. The Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts is supporting the BIU with funds totalling 1.5 million euros up until 2014, Boehringer Ingelheim is contributing 2.25 million euros and the University of Ulm 750,000 euros.The Minister praised the “Ländle”, as Baden-Württemberg is frequently called, as the “best pharmaceutical location in Germany”, citing the diverse research infrastructure and the numerous pharmaceutical and biotech companies of Germany’s southwest as examples.
Theresia Bauer also talked about the transfer of technologies not always being an easy matter in Germany and expressed the Science Ministry’s support for this type of cooperation, which brings together several disciplines and is likely to be of huge benefit for the two partners for many reasons. “It is a good thing that researchers from academia and industry work hand in hand in the search for new solutions for urgent research issues. With the commitment that it is now making, Boehringer Ingelheim clearly demonstrates entrepreneurial vision, as well as regional ownership,” said the politician praising the new research alliance.
The BIU is specifically focused on research into neurodegenerative, cardiometabolic and pulmonary diseases, which are being worked on at both Ulm University and Boehringer Ingelheim’s laboratories in Biberach. Klaus-Michael Debatin, University Vice President of Medicine and BIU spokesperson, referred to these three diseases as issues of major social and economic importance, pointing out that cardiometabolic and infectious diseases are the major causes of death worldwide. In Germany, around one million people suffer from neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. dementia), and the numbers are expected to increase in the future.
Debatin also emphasised that the cooperation between the University of Ulm and Boehringer Ingelheim is entering new territory: the cooperation is open-ended as far as outcome is concerned; the partnership is not concentrating on contract research, instead its strategy involves getting to the root causes of the diseases. “A research alliance of this kind between the research-driven pharmaceutical industry on the one hand and basic biomedical research on the other is unique,” said Debatin. The BIU structure is organised in the same way as established cooperative research centres funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) that are evaluated by external reviewers after a period of three years and usually have a run-time of 12 years.
Andreas Barner, spokesperson of the management board of Boehringer Ingelheim highlighted Boehringer Ingelheim’s long-standing interest in working with academic centres, citing the company’s involvement with the Vienna Institute of Molecular Pathology, the Institute of Molecular Biology in Mainz as well as other strategic partnerships with the University of Dresden (diabetes) and Japanese partners as examples.“I am convinced that working with people involved in basic research-oriented academic activities at Ulm University will move the company on to more fertile ground in terms of outcome and give us more in-depth insights than we would have if we continued working on our own. We are also convinced that this cooperation will help us to strengthen our special focus on research, where we feel there is still great potential in Germany,” said Andreas Barner. “Academic research greatly shapes and inspires the BIU. As a global and research-driven company we also bring into the cooperation the stability that is needed for driving projects to a successful conclusion.”