BIG – The combination of basic research and applied science failed?

The combination of basic research and applied science in the form of the so-called “translational science” is considered an explicit goal of the Berlin Institute of Health Research / Berlin Institute of Health (BIG / BIH). This goal had failed – so headline u.a. the TIME (08.06.17). Time to put this form of research policy to the test.

The merger of the Berlin Charité and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), an institute of the Helmholtz Association, in its own legal construction was considered a milestone on the way to international connectivity and competitiveness in the development of medical therapies , In addition, it should be shown that university and non-university institutions can work together, especially as this topic is being intensively discussed in the framework of the Excellence Initiative in terms of constitutional law and power politics. At least that was in 2011 the justified hopes of politics.

In 2017 you know better. Not only the legal construction, according to which the BIG forms a kind of umbrella organization and the Charité and the MDC are subordinate or subordinate, is hotly debated. Although the construct should also serve to direct federal funds into the community institution Charité. But a submission or even a submission for a traditional house like the Charité in favor of a newly founded institute – could hardly be seriously expected.

Added to this is the often voiced fears of the emergence of a two-class society within the construct. Who is appointed to the BIG, receives a much better endowed professorship and better equipment, while the Charité is considered to be chronically underfunded.

These power struggles and disagreements in favor of each own house have led to the current crisis of the BIG, culminating in the fact that the CEO and top researcher Erwin Böttinger, only since the end of 2015 in office, has submitted his resignation.

Whether the project has failed completely, is too early to judge. However, it can be stated that the example of BIG symptomatically shows the conflicts that are haunting the German scientific community. These are u.a. the frictions that arise when trying to reach international top level (keywords: elite debate, excellence initiative) to compare primarily with US institutions, but cumbersome local conditions can stand in the way.