In January 2002, the Medical Faculty of the University of Heidelberg and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) establish the Molecular Medicine Partnership Unit, a novel partnership in which a research team is jointly headed by cooperating principal investigators (PIs) from the EMBL and the Medical Faculty and composed of an international team of molecular research-oriented MDs, PhDs, PhD-students and technicians of both institutions.
The interdisciplinary cooperation combines the respective strength in medical science and know how, access to patients, and molecular life sciences know how to undertake basic disease-related research for the elucidation of biological mechanisms of diseases.
The first group is that of the founders of the MMPU, Andreas Kulozik from the Medical Faculty of the University of Heidelberg and Matthias Hentze from EMBL. They had previously collaborated successfully on RNA metabolism in blood diseases for many years so that the idea of pursuing basic research related to medicine and vice versa inspires them to this pilot project with the philosophy: From bench to bedside – and back.
In 2004 the MMPU is reviewed by an external panel of international experts and is considered to be ‘first rate, extremely impressive and clearly internationally competitive’. The success of this first MMPU group motivates an expansion of the MMPU to further strengthen the link between basic and translational research in molecular medicine.
In 2006 the MMPU is joined by three new groups: Marcus Mall and Carsten Schultz studying cystic fibrosis, Martina Muckenthaler and Matthias Hentze studying iron overload and deficiency diseases and Magnus von Knebel-Doeberitz and Peer Bork looking at the identification of cancer markers.
In 2007 a fifth group joins the MMPU: Heiko Runz and Rainer Pepperkok, studying the mechanisms of cellular cholesterol regulation. Andreas Kulozik and Matthias Hentze receive the Manfred Lautenschläger Research Prize of Heidelberg University for their successful work on diseases of RNA metabolism and for establishing the MMPU as a paradigm for the cooperation between clinical medicine and basic science.
The 2008 external expert reviewers considered the “vision of creating the MMPU as an resounding success”. The MMPU was strongly encouraged to foster branding and to look for shared laboratory facilities.
In 2011 the MMPU moves into common space provided by the University of Heidelberg, the Otto-Meyerhof-Zentrum (OMZ), Im Neuenheimer Feld 350. Three further groups join the MMPU: Anne-Claude Gavin and Anthony Ho study early warning signals of aging, John Briggs and Hans-Georg Kräusslich look how to interfere with the assembly and maturation of infectious HIV-1, and Paul Heppenstall and Rohini Kuner search for molecular mediators of chronic pain.
In 2012 the external reviewers evaluated the MMPU as a highly successful venture, which also fosters more collaborations between EMBL and Heidelberg University in general. The committee recommended the development of a financial support and mentoring system for medical students and clinical researchers to be able to spend time on research.
In 2012 MMPU’s directors Andreas Kulozik and Matthias Hentze acquire funds for a new initiative, the Heidelberg Research Center for Molecular Medicine (HRCMM), an instrument of the Excellence Initiative of Heidelberg University, which is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) DFG. From 2013 – 2017 the HRCMM assigns different fellowship opportunities for outstanding physicians or MD students who wish to pursue careers in translational medicine. The fellowships aim at providing exceptional career development opportunities in top-level international research.
In 2013 Jan Siemens joined Rohini Kuner and Paul Heppenstall as Co-PI to head the group Chronic Pain.
In 2014 Heiko Runz accepted a position as Director Research/Science at Merck, Boston, USA and his and Rainer Pepperkok’s Group Cholesterol Regulation left the MMPU.
With Jan Korbel and Andreas Kulozik joining for the new MMPU Group Molecular Pediatric Oncology in October 2014 the Partnership is back to eight groups altogether.
In June 2015 the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the Medical Faculty / University of Heidelberg renewed the successful Molecular Medicine Partnership Unit (MMPU) agreement until 2025. The two complementary research institutions continue to share data and resources for ten more years with the aim to achieve scientific and medical breakthroughs that each individually may not be able to make.
In 2016 the panel of international experts congratulates the two host institutions on a well-designed joint venture to foster interdisciplinary research. They believe that “this unique operation involving world-class scientists from several disciplines can serve as a model for other academic institutions”. The MMPU plans to enhance collaborations and tie-ins with biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
With Wolfgang Huber and Sascha Dietrich joining for the new MMPU Group Systems Medicine for Cancer Drugs in October 2016, the Partnership grows to nine groups.
In 2018 the MMPU establishes an external Advisory Board that meets annually to advise the MMPU leadership and faculty.
In 2018 Carsten Schultz accepted a position as Chair of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Portland School of Medicine at OHSU (Oregon Health & State University), USA, Marcus Mall was recruited as Head of the Department of Paediatrics, Division of Pneumology and Immunology at Charité University Hospital Berlin and their Group Cystic Fibrosis left the MMPU.
A new group Stem Cell-Niche Networks was formed between Caroline Pabst, Carsten Müller-Tidow and Judith Zaugg, Anne-Claude Gavin and Anthony D. Ho (as Emeritus Group Leader), the latter two having been the Co-PIs of the former research group Stem Cells and Ageing. Another new Group Chronic Kidney Disease was formed between Christoph Merten, Rainer Pepperkok and Julio Saez-Rodriguez. As John Briggs accepted a position as Research Leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, his and Hans-Georg Kräusslich’s Group HIV left the MMPU.
In 2019 Anne-Claude Gavin became Louis-Jeantet Professor at the Centre Medical Universitaire, Department of Cell Physiology and Metabolism, Geneva, Switzerland and left the MMPU.
With Paul Heppenstall becoming a Professor at the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati in Trieste, Italy, Group Chronic Pain left the MMPU. His former Co-PIs Rohini Kuner and Jan Siemens joint Robert Prevedel and Theodore Alexandrov to form a new MMPU Group Chronic Pain & Homeostasis.
In 2020 the MMPU Group “Cancer Early Detection” led by Peer Bork and Magnus von Knebel Doeberitz left the MMPU after 14 years of very successful membership.
In 2021 a new group Heart Development and Diseases was formed between Eileen Furlong and Johannes Backs.
In summer 2021, the MMPU underwent its fifth external scientific review by an international panel of experts. The MMPU faculty and all members are happy that it has been described as “outstanding at the highest international level” and that both its scientific achievements and the training of PhD and MD students/ postdocs have been judged as “exceptional”. This outcome now forms a basis to enter into the next ambitious phase of MMPU activities.
At present, more than 100 international researchers, physicians and technicians from four different University institutes and four different EMBL Units work in eight groups on important molecular medicine topics, focussing on common diseases and rare diseases with a particular medical need.
Most research activities are financed by grant support from several research agencies.