University clinics to join forces to beat coronavirus

Acting on the initiative of Berlin’s Charité clinic, the German government is to provide money to support a national network of medical research at universities to combat the coronavirus crisis.

The idea to back a nationwide university effort to step up coronavirus research was suggested by Heyo K Kroemer, chairman of the Charité board, and Christian Drosten, director of the Charité’s virology department.

In its present form, the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, where more than 4,000 scientists and physicians are involved in research in all medical areas, is the result of a merger of clinical research facilities run by Humboldt University of Berlin and the Free University of Berlin.

Federal Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek, whose department will be providing a total of €150 million (US$165 million) for the initiative, believes that it could play a key role in coping with the pandemic.

“This initiative is unique in the exceptional situation that our society is going through,” Karliczek says. “We need the best ideas and concepts to guarantee optimum treatment for patients while protecting staff at the same time.”

In the new network, which will be coordinated by the Charité clinic, action plans as well as diagnostics and treatment strategies submitted preferably by all German university clinics are to be gathered and evaluated with the goal of learning from and with one another.

This is to result in structures and processes being established in clinics that would ensure optimal care for the COVID-19 patients. It would enable university clinics and other hospitals to take fast, quality-assured and effective action.

Data from the COVID-19 patients could be systematically established at all university clinics and concentrated in a data bank, thus making both their medical records and details of their constitution available for further strategies.

Such data could also be provided to scientists not working in medical research but supporting physicians. Such a wide range of data could yield valuable insights for treating patients, in management of pandemics and in developing vaccines and therapies.

The federal government will also be actively involved in a national task force to be set up to coordinate university medicine and political measures and integrate the work of other scientific networks. This is the first time that all action plans, diagnostics and treatment strategies of university clinics as well as other actors in the health system are being brought together in a crisis situation.

“I am convinced that this unique scientific project, this concentration of expertise, will take us a big step forward in treating and understanding COVID-19,” Karliczek maintains.

The approach would enable innovative methods such as telemedical treatment of COVID-19 patients to be applied swiftly on a large scale once they have been successfully tested.

Furthermore, researchers can maintain standardised recording and analysing of treatments on the basis of which therapy options can be developed, for example for certain patient groups with pre-existing conditions. Swift, across-the-board dissemination of existing and new insights can ensure that they quickly feed into and enhance treatment.

Michael Gardner, Email: