Ensuring That Patients Benefit from Research

At the World Health Summit Experts Discuss How Research Results Can Reach the Patient Sooner

Translation in medical research requires interdisciplinary teams, intensive communication and increased cooperation. These are the results of a panel discussion of top researchers during the World Health Summit (WHS) on October 20, 2014 in Berlin, to which the German Centers for Health Research (DZG) had invited experts, also from abroad. The event was opened by Georg Schütte, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for Education and Research and moderated by Hans-Jochen Heinze, Professor of Neurology at the University of Magdeburg, a member of the Science Council.

In his welcome speech Georg Schütte said: “Translational research is a complex process that includes all phases of health research. In the German Centers for Health Research, this process shall be jointly coordinated and accelerated. The future of translational research is an international, transnational strategy, to jointly promote the knowledge gained and to make it usable for people. Therefore health research is also high on the agenda of the Federal Government.”

Under the term translation we understand the translation of research results into clinical applications. Worldwide, researchers are striving to improve this process because too few findings from the laboratory reach the clinics and doctors' offices. The research is often stuck in academia, patients do not benefit from it. Why is that? What can we do about it? These were the key questions during the discussion at the WHS.
The panel agreed that only an interdisciplinary research approach can decipher the complex pathogenesis and course of many diseases. All of the participants in this process must communicate with each other more – researchers, physicians, patients, industry representatives, regulatory authorities. According to the panel, these systems often act separately from each other; competition often prevails instead of cooperation.

Translation therefore requires structures that enable and promote communication and cooperation. With the founding of the German Centers for Health Research, the Federal Government has set the right course, as the foreign participants of the Summit also agreed. For the first time in Germany, basic researchers, clinical researchers, and healthcare and industry researchers are cooperating on a large scale and beyond state boundaries.

According to an industry representative, the German Centers for Health Research are an ideal partner for cooperation with industry, due to their size and composition. It was also agreed that cooperation with industry should begin earlier than previously, namely already in the design of research projects and trials.

One of the hurdles to translation identified in the discussion was the lack of incentives to conduct translational research. Career paths need to be developed that make this kind of research attractive for young scientists and physicians. To train young researchers in translational research, the German Centers for Health Research have already initiated first steps in the form of summer and winter schools for translational research, exchange programs and training courses.

According to the majority of the discussion participants, it would also be important to define the success parameters for translational research. The classical criteria for research success, such as high-level publications, are not applicable in the process of translation.

Discussion participants:
Moderator: Hans-Jochen Heinze, Department of Neurology, University Hospital Magdeburg and German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
Welcome speech: Georg Schütte, State Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education and Research

• Dorothee Atzler; German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK)
• Martin Hrabě de Angelis; German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD)
• Geneviève Chêne; Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (INSERM)
• Thomas Eschenhagen; German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK)
• Petra Kaufmann; National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NIH -NCATS)
• Martin Krönke; German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF)
• Elmar Nimmesgern; Health Directorate, DG Research, European Commission
• Wolfgang Plischke; Formerly Board of Management of Bayer AG, responsible for Innovation and HealthCare
• Ernst Th. Rietschel; Berlin Institute of Health (BIH)
• Anja Schneider; German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
• Peter M. Suter; Former President, Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMS)
• Otmar D. Wiestler; German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK)

The German Centers for Health Research
The founding of the six German Centers for Health Research (DZG) from 2009 to 2012 goes back to an initiative of the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF). The DZG have the mandate to accelerate the translation of research results into clinical practice for common diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, lung diseases, infectious diseases and neurodegenerative diseases. The DZG combine universities, university hospitals and non-university research institutions throughout Germany in a network. The financing of the DZG is long-term. The Federal Government contributes 90 percent of the institutional funding supplemented by 10 percent from the states (Länder) in which the partner sites of the DZG are located.