Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and Technische Universität Berlin today laid the foundation stone for two innovative research centers. Si-M and BeCAT will provide ideal conditions and facilities for researching and developing new biomedical technologies. Located at a site on Seestraße in Berlin-Wedding, the centers will receive some 68 million euros of federal and state funding as research institutes pursuant to Article 91b of German Basic Law. Work on the research facilities is scheduled for completion in 2023.
In the Simulated Human (Si-M) project, researchers from TU Berlin and the Charité will explore the interface between medicine and engineering sciences in modeling human cell and organ functions, while the Charité’s Berlin Center for Advanced Therapies (BeCAT) will focus on developing innovative cell-based drugs to help cure patients with previously untreatable diseases. The new research centers have been designed to create the best possible environment for research, with both scientific and architectural elements playing an equal role, and will be provided with a common platform for all infrastructural access.
In his welcome address, Berlin’s governing mayor Michael Müller, who is also chair of the supervisory board of the Charité in his capacity as senator for higher education and research, commented: “The fact that we have now laid the foundation stone for another research center shows that the future of medicine will be made in Berlin. Our major investments over the past five years have set Berlin on the path to becoming an international city of health, bringing together leading research and world-class health care. Our frequent close collaboration with the federal government is a sign of the recognition enjoyed by our researchers throughout Germany, and their work on the development of new drugs and treatments benefits patients throughout the country.”
BeCAT explores new avenues for the development of drugs which not only alleviate symptoms but also cure the actual causes of diseases. These new cell-based therapies, sometimes also referred to as advanced therapies, are unlike any conventional medical product and use specific cell preparations to restore the health of patients. As such, these “living drugs” open up completely new possibilities for the treatment of diseases previously seen as untreatable. BeCAT seeks to bring together the capital’s technological expertise and the clinical development of advanced therapies at a leading international level.
Prof. Dr. Heyo K. Kroemer, chief executive officer of the Charité: “By laying the foundation stone today, we are taking an important further step towards the medicine of the future. The dynamically developing research campus on Seestraße has the potential to become a leading international site for medicine and biotechnology. Both projects, BeCAT and Si-M, are characterized by an innovative approach to research and will make important contributions to both cell-based therapies and the development of alternatives to animal experiments. The building also offers an ideal space for translational researchers from different disciplines to work together under one roof. Through both these projects, the Charité and TU Berlin are making a decisive contribution to future-oriented medical research of the highest caliber, thus achieving a new level of health care.”
The Si-M joint research project came about within the context of a strategic partnership between Charité and TU Berlin. Scientists from both institutions will conduct research at the interface of biotechnology and medicine on human models to replace animal experiments and thus achieve improved results. The project’s researchers aim to “print” 3D artificial organs using a gel made from human cells. In another procedure, cells from a number of human organs are introduced into a labyrinth consisting of micro channels. This “organ-on-a-chip” makes it possible to examine the interactions between up to ten human organs. A microfluidic pump is used to simulate the beating of the heart. This procedure will help pave the way for a personalized medicine: for example, cancer cells from tumor patients can be introduced in an “organ-on-a-chip” and their growth and specific impacts on the functioning of an organ examined. This would make it possible to develop tailored therapies. Using highly automated measuring methods, the researchers will also be able to individually examine thousands or even millions of cells.
Lars Oeverdieck, vice president for administration at TU Berlin: “What is special about our collaboration with the Charité is that Si-M will enable the ongoing further development of experimental methods parallel to biomedical research. The project brings together the problem-solving training of engineers and the biological and therapeutic know-how of medical researchers. This unusual combination has the potential to unleash a new scientific creativity.”
Prof. Dr. Petra Reinke, founding director of BeCAT, member of the founding steering committee of the BIH Center for Regenerative Therapies (BCRT), and head of the cell therapy and personalized immunosuppression research group: “The new building will improve the general conditions for our research work, both in terms of the spaces it offers and by providing us with the exact equipment we need. This will enable us to focus on the research and development of new ATMP drugs and oversee their progress from basic and technology development research through to scientifically-based clinical trials.”
Prof. Dr. Roland Lauster, initiator of The Simulated Human and head of the Department of Medical Biotechnology at TU Berlin: “Simulating human tissue opens the way for completely new approaches to research with high clinical relevance, particularly for new cancer therapies and the treatment of infections. This brings together medicine and biotechnology in areas such as immunotherapies for cancer patients.”
Prof. Dr. Andreas Thiel, head of the Regenerative Immunology and Aging research group at the Charité and co-initiator of The Simulated Human: “The relevant research fields are currently developing very quickly. The Si-M labs offer the first opportunity for new analytical methods providing much more specific diagnoses of diseases and prognoses for a response to modern therapies than was previously the case.”
Some 140 scientists from the Charité and TU Berlin will work in mixed research groups in the Si-M project. Approximately one third of the 3,770-square-meter floor space is available for labs. The labs will occupy three floors, with two floors dedicated to communication. The centerpiece of the building will be the Theatron on the ground floor, a lecture hall whose circular form makes it ideal for exchange and discussion. Communication zones are also set aside on the floors containing labs to enable researchers to meet and discuss their work and ideas. The first two floors will also be open to the public and will provide spaces for exhibitions, workshops, and talks to promote communication between scientists and artists and the general public.
BeCAT develops cell-based innovative therapies. Known as “advanced therapies,” these targeted cell preparations are aimed at restoring the health of patients. BeCAT researches the development and production of all three classes of Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMP): gene therapeutics, somatic cell therapeutics, and bioengineered tissue products. The preparations mostly contain or consist of living cells or tissue that have been biotechnologically reprocessed. Classified as medicinal products, ATMP are subject to good manufacturing practice (GMP) standards and require centralized authorization. The main areas of focus of BeCAT projects are regenerative medicine as well as hematology and oncology. The new building will include a modular GMP laboratory unit where it will be possible to produce all ATMP classes, also in combination with biomaterials, as well as carry out 3D bioprinting. The building’s standards are modelled on those of the federal government’s Sustainable Building accreditation system.
Si-M und BeCAT are funded in accordance with Article 91b of German Basic Law. The total costs of more than 34 million euros for Si-M and 30 million for BeCAT will therefore be covered in equal amounts by the federal government and the State of Berlin. Additional funding from the SIWANA program for financing the city’s infrastructure worth 3.8 million euros has been deployed in advance for basic infrastructures and to connect the research building to the Charité Campus Virchow-Klinikum. Both buildings are scheduled for completion in 2023.