Petri dish with medication

Millions in funding for international cooperation project in the field of anti-infectives

Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds German-Ukrainian project to establish a core of excellence in Ukraine

Saarbrücken, November 28, 2023 - The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the establishment of a German-Ukrainian core of excellence to help discover new anti-infectives and make them available for medical purposes. The core of excellence, funded with 2.5 million euros, is to be located in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv - in collaboration with Saarland University and the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS). In the long term, the core of excellence should establish itself as an independent research institution and strengthen scientific relations between Germany and Ukraine. The HIPS is a site of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in cooperation with Saarland University.

The funding guideline for the establishment of German-Ukrainian cores of excellence in Ukraine was already initiated by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research before the start of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. In addition to the original intention of intensifying scientific collaboration between the two countries, the four cores of excellence funded now also have a role to play in the reconstruction of the Ukrainian infrastructure and economy. The CENtR (German-Ukrainian Core of Excellence in Natural Products Research) project, in which HIPS, HZI and Saarland University are involved, focuses on discovering and developing novel anti-infectives based on natural products. It is thus dedicated to a global problem of high social relevance. In addition to the two German partners, the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv and the company Explogen LLC are involved as partners on the Ukrainian side. 

In order to study new drug candidates, CENtR researchers will apply various methods of genetics, genomics and synthetic biology. The main aim is to develop active substances that help to contain and combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR). AMR is causing conventional antibiotics to increasingly lose their effectiveness, which is why new strategies are urgently needed to treat bacterial infections. Researchers at HIPS, HZI and Saarland University have been working on this topic for many years - also in close collaboration with Ukrainian scientists. "A major advantage of the planned core of excellence is that we have been working successfully with our partners in Lviv for a long time and know each other very well," says Andriy Luzhetskyy, Professor of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at Saarland University. "Our knowledge at the university and HIPS complements that of the team in Ukraine perfectly. Our partners take care of the isolation and genetic manipulation of bacterial producer strains and we optimize the isolated natural products to make them accessible for clinical use as antibiotics." The two leading researchers at CENtR, Prof Bohdan Ostash and Dr Yuriy Rebets, have already spent part of their scientific careers in Saarbrücken. "Saarbrücken is one of the top addresses for pharmaceutical drug research worldwide. We are therefore planning to send some of our people to Germany for several months so that they can learn from our partners and then put their expertise to good use in Lviv," says Bohdan Ostash, Professor of Genetics and Biotechnology at the University of Lviv.

The CENtR core of excellence is to be founded as a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO). In the implementation of CENtR, the German-Ukrainian team will also be supported by the Science and Technology Center in Ukraine (STCU). The intergovernmental organization will make the funding acquired from BMBF accessible to the Ukrainian researchers and, in addition to the financial management of the project, also take over the handling of work contracts and procurement measures. The long-term goal is to anchor the new institution in the international scientific landscape in the long term. "The funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research enables us to get this ambitious and important project off the ground. At the end of the four-year funding phase, however, CENtR should be able to stand on its own two feet. To this end, we will need to acquire further funding and both identify and integrate industrial partners at an early stage," says Prof Rolf Müller, Scientific Director of HIPS. "We are delighted that the new core of excellence will give us the opportunity to support Ukraine in these difficult times and thus contribute to the country's reconstruction." The chances of this are good: at the time of the application, the CENtR team had already received a large number of letters from German and Ukrainian companies that are interested in the planned project or would even like to get actively involved.

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