How does the government support research?
Germany is very concerned with the areas of health and caring for the sick in general. Consequently, in the government’s 2025 High-Tech Strategy, which sets the framework for policies aimed at encouraging innovation in the coming years, one particular focus was on pharmaceutical research.
The development of vaccines and other medicines in Germany is supported by a number of tools for encouraging research. Projects that are particularly important right now and for the future are constantly being underwritten. For example, €155 million have just been devoted to coronavirus research.
SMEs can profit from what is known as the Zentrales Innovationsprogramm Mittelstand (ZIM) – Central Innovation Program for SMEs – from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, which financially supports research projects and networks. In addition, from the beginning of this year, all companies in Germany have gotten tax breaks for research expenditures.
But what’s just as important as financial support is the entire research landscape, which also receives significant assistance from the government. This encompasses German universities and other institutions that educate specialists, Germany’s research hospitals and the country’s numerous, highly specialized biotechnology clusters.
How well connected internationally are Germany’s research institutions, and how does the pharmaceutical industry work together with biotech companies?
Because of the great complexity of the subject, international cooperation is common within the pharmaceutical sector. So, too, is collaboration between large pharmaceutical companies and innovative biotech firms. One example is the cooperation just agreed between BioNTech and US pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer to develop a messenger-RNA-based SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. The Chinese pharmaceutical company Fosun also recently provided BioNTech with €120 million to develop an anti-coronavirus vaccine.
There are lots of similar examples. German biotechnology companies like Immatics, Affimed, CureVac and Medigene are hardly household names. But they also work closely together with international pharmaceutical conglomerates like Novartis, Roche, Pfizer and Amgen and have a bright future if their research is successful.
In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s also important to mention the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI). The CEPI brings together international public and private vaccine developers, for example in Germany, CureVac and the Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung (German Center for Infection Research).
Could you give us a recent example of a successful German-developed vaccine?
Since the end of 2019, there has been a European Medicines Agency approved vaccine against the highly infectious Ebola virus. It was largely developed in Germany and is produced here. This medication has been in use for quite a while, but until now it lacked the approval by a regulatory authority for general usage.
The vaccine originated in a research project of Health Canada, and it was completed by the American company Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) in Germany. To do so, MSD collaborated closely with the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf and Paul Ehrlich Institute. Funding for the vaccine’s development was provided by the German Ministry of Education and Research as well as GAVI Alliance (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization), which Germany also helps finance. The vaccine is produced at the MSD location in Burgwedel near the city of Hannover in northern Germany. From there it is distributed to everywhere in the world that needs it.
This example shows how important international cooperation is in this area and what a positive role Germany is playing in the development and production of crucial medicines.