Coronavirus: What the BMBF is doing

Germany is a founding member and has provided funding to CEPI worth 90 million euros since 2017. © Adobe Stock / peterschreiber.media

There is widespread concern among the public about the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. The situation in Europe became more acute starting in March. The German Federal Government has joined forces to face the challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak. On 11 March 2020, the Budget Committee of the German Bundestag allocated an additional 145 million euros for research on the coronavirus. The Federal Research Ministry (BMBF) will use the majority of these funds to support the international vaccine initiative CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations). The emergency measure is part of the BMBF’s global activities in the area of infection research.

BMBF coronavirus response is focusing on three areas

1. We are investing in research to enable a better understanding of the virus.

On 3 March 2020, the BMBF published a funding call worth 10 million euros. This measure steps up the funding for virology research in Germany, which we have supported for a long time. Researchers will be receiving additional funding with which to continue the efforts to better understand the virus. The research will generate further starting points for the development of treatments and vaccines. The researchers aim to gain an even better understanding of the biology and the transmission routes and dynamics of the virus. This knowledge is also key in taking appropriate preventative measures. More information (in German).

2. We are promoting the development of drugs to treat the sick.

The aim of the funding call is to support the development of new drugs to fight the novel coronavirus. Identifying new active substances is one objective, in addition to the further development of active substances which are known already, for example those which have been approved for the treatment of other viral diseases. This is particularly critical at the present time. There has been encouraging news in this context in recent days: there will be clinical trials to develop these drugs further and approve them for the treatment of the novel coronavirus More information (in German).

3. We are funding the development of a vaccine.

The third key funding priority of the BMBF is research and development of vaccines. The international community has learned its lessons from past epidemics and established the CEPI vaccine initiative. Germany is a founding member and has provided funding to CEPI worth 90 million euros since 2017.

CEPI is a public-private partnership which involves the cooperation of public funding agencies, philanthropic organizations, research institutions and pharmaceutical companies. Under the umbrella of CEPI, projects are currently driving the development of a vaccine. The vaccine development projects initiated by CEPI also involve the German biotech company CureVac. More information (in German).

The availability of a vaccine is the best means of curbing the spread of the virus in the medium term. On 11 March 2020, the Budget Committee of the Bundestag allocated an additional 145 million euros for research on the coronavirus.

What else is the BMBF doing in terms of infection research?

German Center for Infection Research (DZIF)

The BMBF has been funding the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) since 2012. The DZIF is an alliance of more than 500 doctors and scientists at seven locations working towards the strategic development of translational research.The DZIF has defined nine areas of research in which the researchers focus on the most pressing issues. This includes the infectious diseases AIDS, malaria, hepatitis and tuberculosis as well as gastrointestinal disorders, all of which affect many millions of people. Another DZIF research focus area addresses emerging infectious diseases that are often transmitted from animals to humans and are referred to as zoonoses. The novel SARS-CoV-2 is one of these zoonoses.

German Center for Lung Research (DZL)

The German Center for Lung Research (DZL) is an association of more than 200 researchers and research groups from university and non-university research institutions at five different sites. The DZL focuses on eight diseases/disease areas. They are: asthma and allergy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis (CF), pneumonia and acute lung injury and diffuse parenchymal lung disease, pulmonary hypertension, lung cancer and end-stage lung disease. The DZL has defined three main areas of focus for its research and adopts an integrative approach to its research on the processes typical of lung disease. The first area is infectious processes, which are significant in both infectious and non-infectious lung diseases. The second area is the repair processes that enable nearly complete regeneration of the lung in some diseases. The third area is research into the proliferation processes that occur in both benign and malignant lung diseases and can severely impair the delicate tissue important for gas exchange. Clinical Research Group Unit 309 “Virus-Induced Lung Injury: Pathobiology and Novel Therapeutic Strategies” heads research at the DZL on the COVID-19 infection, its pathogen and a vaccine.

National Research Platform for Zoonoses and Research Network of Zoonotic Infectious Diseases

The National Research Platform for Zoonoses is a platform supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) together with the Federal Ministry of Health, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and the Federal Ministry of Defence. It creates an information and service network for all scientists active in the field of zoonoses research in Germany. Its aim is to enable the cross-institutional exchange and interdisciplinary cooperation at the interface of human and veterinary infection research on a national and international level. It is committed to expanding research activities in the field of zoonoses research and to promoting links between human and veterinary medicine. Starting in 2017, the BMBF has provided funding worth 40 million euros to the Research Network of Zoonotic Infectious Diseases and its seven research networks and six junior research groups. Their research focuses on the different pathogens that can be transmitted from animals to humans. The network includes an alliance coordinated by Professor Christian Drosten which focuses on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)

The international vaccine initiative CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) was founded in 2017 to develop vaccines against pathogens with pandemic potential. CEPI is a public-private partnership involving government funding agencies, philanthropic organizations and pharmaceutical companies. Germany is a founding member and has provided CEPI with a total funding of 90 million euros. CEPI has focused its vaccine development efforts among others on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a disease which, like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the new, is caused by coronaviruses. Funding is also provided for new vaccine platforms dedicated to the fast-track development and production of vaccines. The development of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 driven by CEPI is based on these research activities.

How is the BMBF ensuring the continued disbursement of BAföG training assistance?

The university has been closed. Will I continue to receive BAföG?

Yes. The time during which universities remain closed due to the pandemic will be considered equivalent to semester break. As such, BAföG will continue to be disbursed until further notice. However, if online courses are offered, attendance is mandatory. For more information visit our BAföG webpages (available in German only).

I am a first semester student. Will I still receive BAföG payments?

Yes. First semester students will receive their grant despite universities being closed. The period of closure is considered equivalent to semester recess. For more information visit our BAföG webpages (available in German only).

I benefit from upgrading training assistance (Aufstiegs-BAföG). Will I now be missing too many semester hours/credits?

No. Your allowances will continue to be disbursed until further notice if you are absent because the educational establishment is closed due to the pandemic. For more information continue reading here.

My exam has been cancelled – will I still receive BAföG?

Yes. If exams are cancelled and you therefore exceed the standard period of study, disbursement of the BAföG grant will continue in most cases. For more information visit our BAföG webpages (available in German only).

My standard period of study ends now – will I still receive BAföG?

If the standard period of study has been exceeded and the exam has been cancelled due to the pandemic, disbursement of the BAföG grant will continue in most cases. For more information visit our BAföG webpages (German).