Institute of Molecular Biology: a true milestone.
With its 2009 pledge to donate a total of 100 million euros over ten years, the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation enabled the establishment and scientific activities of the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) at the University of Mainz. The State of Rhineland-Palatinate simultaneously provided 50 million euros for the construction of the IMB’s new research building. Within just 15 months, a life sciences institute was thus established that by any international standard is excellently equipped and offers optimal conditions for research. The IMB is a so-called non-university institute and a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Mainz located on its campus. At the end of 2020, the IMB employed more than 240 people from over 40 countries. Research at IMB focuses on three areas: epigenetics, developmental biology and genome stability.
A further pledge by the Foundation of about 54 million euros – together with a further 52 million euros pledged by the State of Rhineland-Palatinate – ensures the core funding of the IMB on an internationally competitive level until the middle of 2027.
The context and aims of funding.
Due to its ties to the region, the Foundation's benefactor, the Boehringer and von Baumbach family, has always attached great importance to supporting basic research in the life sciences in Mainz. The Foundation's aim is to establish and maintain Mainz as an internationally renowned centre of leading research in this field.
The fast and impressive development of the IMB into an internationally recognized centre of excellence in the life sciences demonstrates the very positive influence that the Foundation's donation and the new IMB building have had on the life sciences in Mainz. The Foundation and the State of Rhineland-Palatinate seek to ensure the continuation of this success story with their joint funding of the IMB, announced in May 2018. They aim to further strengthen the international reputation of the IMB and consolidate Mainz as an excellent place for the life sciences.
The IMB: an outstanding example of long-term research funding.
With its pledge of two major donations, the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation ensures a solid core funding for the IMB until 2027 (since 2020 jointly with the State of Rhineland-Palatinate), thus enabling it to provide its scientists with internationally competitive conditions in which to conduct their research.
Particularly during the IMB’s start-up phase, the Foundation assisted the University of Mainz in an advisory capacity and took part in a so-called search committee (Findungskommission), set up to draw the attention of top international scientists to the attractive new prospects for conducting research in Mainz and to encourage them to apply for directorships at the new institute. The prospects offered by the IMB – coupled with its maximum degree of research freedom, scientific independence, and excellent financial conditions – have proved to be compelling. Christof Niehrs, a world-leading cell and developmental biologist, could be won as the founding director of the IMB. Professor Niehrs is an awardee of the German Research Foundation's Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, Germany’s most prestigious research prize. Subsequently, the University of Mainz succeeded in appointing two further internationally prominent and leading researchers as scientific directors of the IMB, Professor René Ketting of the Netherlands and Professor Helle Ulrich from England. At the end of 2020, the IMB counted 17 teams of scientists conducting solely curiosity-driven and knowledge-based basic research on a variety of topics, including how organisms develop, how they repair their own DNA, and how the stability and activity of genes are regulated. How does the human body develop and why does it become ill? These are the key questions that IMB research would like to help answer over the long term.
As is usually the case with multi-year research funding projects, the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation agreed to donate 100 million euros to the University of Mainz on the condition that after five years the IMB be reviewed by an international panel of renowned scientists. Led by Professor Herbert Jäckle, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and former Vice-President of the Max Planck Society, the team of 13 peer reviewers judged the development work and research of the IMB to be "excellent", and remarked that even this early after its founding the Institute was already significantly raising the international profile of life sciences research in Mainz. Meanwhile, the institute has reached the status of excellence by international standards. This was the conclusion drawn by a board of scientists led by Professor Wendy Bickmore, Director of the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who evaluated the IMB in the autumn of 2021.
Clear framework conditions to ensure independence and quality.
The basic principles of the funding of the IMB at the University of Mainz by the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation, of the joint funding activities with the State of Rhineland-Palatinate, and of the cooperative partnership between the University of Mainz and the IMB are governed by written agreements. This is as usual as it is essential. The funding agreement between the State, the Foundation, the University, and the IMB specifies the purpose and aim of the initiative: the establishment and development of an international centre of excellence in the life sciences. It also defines and regulates the IMB's financing, its accompanying rights and duties, and its quality assurance process.
All of the scientists who receive funding from the Foundation are conducting pure, solely curiosity-driven basic research. They independently decide which questions to address and which findings they wish to publish, and where. The IMB’s website, as well as PubMed, an international database accessible to the public, offer insights into the scientists’ research and their findings. The rights to the IMB’s research findings belong exclusively to the scientists and to the IMB. The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation has no access to these rights.
As part of the IMB's quality assurance process, and to ensure that funds provided by the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation and the State are used according to legal requirements, the IMB undertakes, among other things, to submit annual research reports, document its use of funds in a yearly financial report audited by accredited auditors, and implement quality assurance measures. The IMB's annual research report is freely available on the Institute's website. In the interest of quality assurance, regular-interval evaluations of the entire institute and its individual research groups will be conducted.