Federal government decides on million-euro funding for HIPS

The Federal Budget Committee has assured the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS) funding of 47 million euros for the further expansion of the institute. Together with funds from the state of Saarland, the HIPS will receive a total of 70 million euros until 2025. The additional funds will go towards an extension building and further research groups focusing on antibacterial and antiviral agents.

The HIPS was founded in 2009 as an institution of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in close cooperation with Saarland University (UdS), and conducts pharmaceutical drug research with a focus on antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The aim of research at HIPS is to develop new active compounds to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The funding commitment of the German Federal Government and the Saarland will now allow HIPS to expand its research focus and investigate both antibacterial and antiviral substances. According to the Managing Director of the HIPS, Prof. Rolf Müller, there is great potential for success in this area: "So far, we have mainly used our proven combination of natural product research and synthetic approaches to discover antibacterial substances. As far as antiviral substances are concerned, there is also great potential for the application of our strategies, which we have so far only partially exploited. The resources available at HIPS and our expertise in medicinal chemistry and natural product research provide an optimal basis for expanding our activities in the field of antiviral agents. The expansion funds for the HIPS that have now been approved will enable us to take this step".

In addition to opening up new fields of research, the already established topics at the HIPS will also be strengthened by the federal and state funding. The latter include not only natural product biotechnology but also theoretical approaches from the fields of drug- and cheminformatics. In close cooperation with researchers in the field of computer science and life sciences working at Saarland University and with researchers in the field of medicine working at Saarland University Medical Center, HIPS scientists will also investigate whether microorganisms that colonize humans (the so-called microbiome) can also be used as a potential source of new active ingredients. In order to implement the planned activities, new professorships will be established and existing collaborations with UdS researchers will be expanded. The members of the new research groups will be housed in an extension building, which will also be financed by the funds promised by the federal and state governments. The new building will be constructed on the vacant lot next to the existing Helmholtz Institute.

The long-term goal is to establish a joint focus of HIPS and UdS as a second mainstay in the Saarland research landscape alongside computer science. Rolf Müller emphasizes: "Through their commitment, the Saarland state government and Saarland’s members of the Bundestag have achieved extraordinary results for drug research at the site. We are very grateful for this confidence in our work. The success of the HIPS in recent years is also based on the long-standing and collegial cooperation with Saarland University, without whose support the growth of the institute would not have been possible".

University President Prof. Manfred Schmitt is also delighted by the news of the funding provided by the federal government and Saarland state government: "This is excellent news. The funding sets the scene for the planned expansion of the HIPS, which will create workspace for researchers working in the field of translational drug discovery. At the same time, it will complement the ongoing process of further developing the university’s research excellence in in our cutting-edge research areas. Over the years to come, this will significantly strengthen the close collaboration between the university and between the university and its non-university partners in Saarland. All of this makes me very confident that Saarland University, together with the HIPS, will continue to perform and expand its central role in this scientific field of societal relevance as a center for innovation and technology not only in Saarland but in the entire region".

The Scientific Director of the HZI, Prof. Dirk Heinz, also welcomes the current development: "We are pleased that the quality of research at our Saarbrücken site is also recognized at the federal level. The HIPS working groups have already achieved excellent results in this year's Helmholtz internal review. Especially the expansion of antiviral drug development will further strengthen the links between the research topics at the HZI and the HIPS. The funding now obtained will help HIPS and HZI to further expand their focus on drug discovery and attract new, excellent scientists".

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most urgent future topics in the field of global health. The current Covid-19 pandemic shows how important it is to work on active compounds to combat infectious diseases. Scientists at HIPS are looking for substances and strategies to counteract the increasing spread of resistant pathogens. To achieve this goal, HIPS places particular emphasis on the translation of its research results into clinical application. In addition to clinical partners, HIPS works in close collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry to translate the developed compounds into clinical applications.