2022-05-10

The fifth anniversary of HIRI

The Helmholtz Institute Würzburg celebrates its birthday – and reflects on its many achievements to date

With numerous supporters and cooperation partners, the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) Würzburg celebrated its fifth anniversary today, May 10. The location of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig in cooperation with the Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg had invited about 200 guests from science, politics, ministries and authorities to the Würzburg Residence. Together, they celebrated achievements to date and looked ahead to the institute's upcoming projects. Among the guests congratulating the institute was Ilse Aigner, President of the Bavarian State Parliament.

Group photoF.l.t.r.: Prof Dr Dirk Heinz, Scientific Director of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research; Prof Dr Paul Pauli, President of the Julius-Maximilians-Universität of Würzburg; Ilse Aigner, President of the Bavarian State Parliament; Prof Dr Jörg Vogel, Managing Director of the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research; Alice Hohn, Head of Administration of the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research; Dr Ulrike Wolf, Ministerial Director Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy; Elisabeth Gerndt, Acting Administrative Director of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, Dr Uwe Klug, Chancellor of the Julius-Maximilians-Universität of Würzburg. © Mario Schmit In May 2017, the world's first institution combining research on ribonucleic acids (RNA) with infection biology was founded in Würzburg: the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI). Since then, the still young HIRI has gained a global reputation in basic RNA research and as a technological pioneer.

The HIRI can already claim considerable renown: In 2017, for example, founding director Jörg Vogel received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize – the most important research funding award in Germany. In addition, four of eight research group leaders at HIRI have been given an ERC Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) – awards that are among the most prestigious and significant in Europe.

International breakthrough on SARS-CoV-2

HIRI is not lacking in research successes either: since its foundation, it has published approximately 200 scientific papers, including some in the world's best journals such as "Nature", "Science", and "Cell". In 2020, HIRI-led scientists from Würzburg and the USA achieved an international breakthrough in research on SARS-CoV-2: they were the first team in the world to identify the interactions of viral RNA with the proteins of human cells. In doing so, they provided an important basis for the development of drugs, for example. In 2021, the HIRI, in cooperation with JMU, created a new RNA diagnostic technology based on the gene scissors CRISPR. In the meantime, a patent has been applied for, and the method, called "LEOPARD", offers the chance to replace conventional PCR tests one day, as it is significantly more precise and faster.

Ilse Aigner, President of the Bavarian State Parliament and, at the time of the foundation, a founding supporter of the Würzburg Helmholtz Institute as Minister of Economic Affairs of Bavaria, did not miss the opportunity to acknowledge the success of HIRI as the first well-wisher: "The founding of the Helmholtz Institute in 2017 was no less than a giant leap forward for Bavaria as a research location. For a politician, especially in turbulent and difficult times, it is wonderful to see that efforts are giving a real boost to medical research. I am deeply impressed."

Digital birthday greetings were delivered by Roland Weigert, State Secretary in the Bavarian State Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy, Christian Schuchardt, Mayor of the City of Würzburg, as well as by Katja Becker, President of the German Research Foundation (DFG), and Helmholtz President Otmar D. Wiestler.

HIRI founding director Jörg Vogel expressed his delight at the great birthday resonance and recalled milestones of the institute's first five years. With a view to upcoming goals, he said: "Since the institute was founded, we have secured a place at the top of the world in our field of research. We want to further expand this position in the coming years. We are focusing on future fields of basic research and its translation: first and foremost, personalized medicine, but also, for example, programmable antibiotics." Vogel thanked HIRI's funders for enabling his institute to conduct research at the highest level. "And our new institute building with its own laboratories on the Würzburg medical campus will also be particularly important for this," Vogel said. After five years of growth at HIRI in the university's premises, there was mainly one thing lacking: sufficient space.

Dirk Heinz, Scientific Director of the HZI in Braunschweig, explained the importance of the Würzburg HIRI for the parent center: "The Corona pandemic and especially the new types of mRNA vaccines have made it very clear that RNA-based technologies are a true force for innovation. We are very proud to be part of this revolution with HIRI and to be able to make powerful contributions together with JMU, not only in basic research but also in translation into medical application."

JMU President Paul Pauli emphasized the importance of HIRI for the excellence strategy of the University of Würzburg: "With HIRI, our Faculty of Medicine and our University Hospital are perfectly linked to the Helmholtz Association and the expertise of the HZI. The scientific success that the Julius-Maximilians-Universität is achieving together with HIRI is an important component to further strengthen the excellence of Würzburg and JMU as a research location."

Five years of HIRI – five facts

Foundation

In May 2017, the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) is founded in Würzburg. It is a location of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig in cooperation with the Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg.

Founding Director

The founding director is the biochemist Jörg Vogel. He is also the director of the Institute for Molecular Infection Biology (IMIB) at JMU.

Team

When it was founded in 2017, HIRI started with a team of twelve and two research groups. Today, the institute has eight research groups and employs more than 100 people in science, technical operations and administration.

Funding

HIRI is financed to 90 percent by federal funds. The Free State of Bavaria contributes 10 percent. In addition, project funding is raised from the European Research Council, the German Research Foundation and foundations.

New building

HIRI is temporarily housed in the premises of the Old Surgery on the Medical Campus Würzburg until the construction and opening of its own institute building. The new institute building is being constructed in the immediate vicinity and is being planned by the Munich-based architectural office doranth post architekten. The client is the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig. The project is being financed with funds from the Bavarian State Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy and the European Union.

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