The research offensive against SARS-CoV-2
With the onset of the Corona pandemic, health research was faced with enormous challenges: A new type of virus spread and caused a hitherto so far unknown disease: Covid-19. What was urgently needed was new knowledge, stronger networking of medical expertise in the country and above all, a vaccine to protect people. The German government therefore launched a major research offensive in 2020 – supported by the experts from the Health Division at DLR-PT.
The BioNTech vaccine – launched with funding from the BMBF and expertise from DLR-PT
Vaccinations are among the most important weapons in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. In May 2020, the German government therefore initiated the sSpecial programme to accelerate research on and development of urgently needed vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, with a budget of 750 million euros. Several Federal ministries, the Federal Chancellery and the Federal Audit Office were involved in the preparation of this funding guideline; the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) was in charge, supported by DLR-PT. The call for project proposals was drafted by DLR-PT with the highest priority in view of its special urgency. Our staff were also responsible for informing and advising applicants, and organised the selection of the projects for funding with the help of a high-ranking scientific advisory board.
The measure contributed to a spectacular success: the BioNTech vaccine Comirnaty, which was largely developed in Germany. The BioNTech project received funding through the special programme, in addition to the companies CureVac and IDT. This enabled the first vaccinations to begin in Germany just eleven months after the onset of the pandemic.
The University Medicine Network – a unique initiative in German health research
The Covid-19 pandemic brought German university medicine into focus. It was to both ensure optimal healthcare and help to cope with the pandemic with innovative research approaches. The University Medicine Network (NUM) was therefore set up at national level – supported by experts from DLR-PT.
The NUM unites all 36 university hospitals in Germany. One focus of its work is to collect treatment data on Covid-19 patients and strategies for diagnostics and treatment in a uniform manner and to analyse them across the board.
Our experts have intensively accompanied the establishment of the NUM. This includes strategic advice to the BMBF, the legal implementation of the network and support for its coordination. As the commissioned project management agency, we also support the BMBF in the NUM's National Task Force, which, among other things, advises on the prioritisation of the most urgent research questions. In the meantime, 13 large collaborative research projects have been launched on the recommendation of the Task Force.
Rapid response – new standards in the first research funding programme on SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19
Even before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic, the BMBF, with the involvement of the DLR-PT, had launched the call for proposals on research into SARS-CoV2 and Covid-19. In close coordination with the BMBF, our staff developed an efficient funding procedure that made it possible to fund the selected projects just a few weeks after the application was submitted.
With a total volume of 45 million euros, the BMBF gave significant impetus to research into the virus and its modes of transmission as well as the assessment of the societal consequences of the Covid- 19 pandemic with this funding programme.
The fight against the pandemic – an international concern
Acting in a transnational and coordinated manner is crucial in the global fight against the pandemic. In the global context, DLR-PT supports the BMBF, for example, in the "Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A)". ACT-A was established to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments and vaccines worldwide. The Health Division provides reliable support to BMBF for their participation in boards and committees.
Long Covid and modelling studies
Based on the expertise of our staff, we have also been commissioned to support further BMBF calls for research proposals which deal with long-term health consequences of Covid-19 disease ("Long Covid") as well as the further development of mathematical modelling to predict the spread of infection and the impact assessment of protective measures.
Technical communication on Covid-19
The Health Communication Team assists the BMBF in addressing the topic with current articles, which are specially prepared for different channels. More about the measures and funded projects as well as dossiers can be found at gesundheitsforschung-bmbf.de.
The active ingredient Comirnaty from the German company BioNTech brought a breakthrough in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. As one of the first vaccines worldwide, it was approved in the European Union, the UK and the USA in December 2020. The company was funded with 375 million euros as part of the special programme set up by the German government to accelerate vaccine development against SARS-CoV-2 – the Health Division at DLR-PT was in demand as a central partner of the German government in implementing the programme.