The state of Hesse and the Willy Robert Pitzer Foundation will support virus research over the next ten years. The funds will mainly flow into a new professorship at Sandra Ciesek’s Institute for Medical Virology at the University Hospital in Frankfurt. “I am very confident that we will find a great candidate who will help us fight future pandemics,” says Ciesek.
Sandra Ciesek came by bike to the Westend campus of Frankfurt’s Goethe University to be present at the signing. Not far from the well-known virologist, who also teaches at the university and provides understandable information about Corona via Twitter and podcast, University President Enrico Schleiff and Science Minister Angela Dorn (Greens) are sitting in the Senate hall on Thursday. Schleiff and Helmut Häuser, Chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, sign the agreement to finance the “Willy Robert Pitzer Endowed Professorship for Molecular Virology of Human Pathogenic RNA Viruses”.
For this professorship as well as labor and personnel costs, the state of Hesse is providing 1.4 million euros for the first five years via the “LOEWE top professorship” funding line, which was awarded to Sandra Ciesek’s Institute for Medical Virology last year. The foundation will then support the new professorship for another five years with 1.75 million euros. Application deadline is July 13th.
“I am very confident that we will find a great candidate who will help us fight future pandemics,” says Ciesek. She emphasizes: “Until 2019, virology was considered a small, insignificant subject: I was always very concerned about it. Unfortunately, there are regular pandemics,” says the director of the Institute for Medical Virology at the University Hospital. They are usually triggered by zoonoses, including infectious diseases that are mutually transmitted between animals and humans. “And most commonly these are caused by RNA viruses. To name examples: influenza, swine flu or SARS.” The 44-year-old is all the happier about the new position at her institute for medical virology: “The professorship aims to develop novel drug targets for antiviral therapies. The focus should be on corona viruses. But also to other human pathogenic viruses such as HIV.” The whole thing is a long-term process.
“The better you know about a virus and how it multiplies in the cell, the easier it is to defeat it,” explains Ciesek. The risk of pandemics will increase sharply in the future: “That’s why it’s important to stand up for it.”
Minister of Science Dorn says that research and education of the population is “the best vaccine against social division”.
Ciesek emphasizes that Frankfurt, together with Gießen and Marburg, has made it so that Hessen is the only federal state that has three globally recognized virological institutes. Under the leadership of Gießen, these three virologies have now developed a new LOEWE focus called “CoroPan” in order to continue their scientific work during the pandemic.
And how does Ciesek assess the autumn? “Unfortunately, the pandemic is not over. I’m always the killjoy there. We are extremely dependent on which variant will prevail.” If the variant stays mild like Omicron, she expects infections to rise, so that many people are absent from work, but there will not be an overload in the intensive care units. “But if a variant comes along that is more pathogenic or has a complete immune escape, which means the vaccine would no longer work, then the situation is completely different and you have to see how you react.” Probably two years or more it will be some time before things calm down.