Stiftung Charité was founded in 2005 by the entrepreneur Johanna Quandt (1926 – 2015). It is an independent private non-profit foundation designed to support life sciences and university medicine in Berlin across all areas of science, research, education, and healthcare.
Stiftung Charité exists thanks to the close connection that Johanna Quandt had to medicine and Berlin. She was born and brought up in the city and completed her training as a medical assistant there. Her choice of career was also influenced by her positive relationship with her grandfather Max Rubner (1854 – 1932).
Max Rubner as an inspiration
Max Rubner belonged to the generation of Berlin scientists most frequently associated with Rudolf Virchow, Hermann von Helmholtz, Robert Koch, Paul Langerhans, Paul Ehrlich, and Emil von Behring today. Rubner studied medicine and chemistry before becoming a pioneer in the field of nutrition physiology. After academic stints in Leipzig, Munich, and Marburg, he was appointed Professor of Hygiene as successor to Robert Koch in 1891 at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin (today the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin). Throughout his various roles (director of the new Hygiene Institute from 1904, member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences from 1906, successor to Theodor Wilhelm Engelmann as Professor of Physiology from 1909, rector of the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin from 1910 to 1911, director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Arbeitsphysiologie from 1913) he remained dedicated to university medicine in Berlin until his death in 1932. During this time, he consolidated his work on nutrition physiology, working on the further development of the calorimeter to measure the energy value of food, and inventing the calorie chart which we are still familiar with today. His research also extended to general physiology, occupational medicine, and hygiene. Max Rubner not only researched important fundamental principles like the effect of organic nutrients or his surface law. He also dedicated himself to exploring the potential applications of his results and contributed to resolving the health issues of his time arising from increasing industrialization and urbanization, as well as malnutrition and worsened living conditions during the First World War.
In line with the life’s work of her grandfather, Johanna Quandt founded Stiftung Charité with the aim of providing comprehensive support for life sciences across all areas, including research and teaching, knowledge and technology transfer, and patient care.
Entrepreneurship meets science
During the first years of its existence, Stiftung Charité focused on promoting an entrepreneurial spirit and activities at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin with a particular emphasis on organizing its own events and initiatives. The foundation analyzed the economic potential of a research and healthcare system which at the beginning of the twenty-first century was still constrained by the norms of public administration. In addition to individual events and workshops, the inaugural Entrepreneurship Summit was organized by Stiftung Charité in 2007. Over the years, it has become a regular and increasingly international meeting place for various actors in the field of biomedical innovation. Very early on, Stiftung Charité also began to develop and launch technology transfer funding programs. In 2009, for example, the Max Rubner Prize was established to reward ideas for structural change and fund innovative pilot schemes. Furthermore, the “validation funding program” was designed to implement the research results of promising projects in real-world patient care, e.g. in the form of diagnostic or therapeutic tools, medical products, and healthcare services. Many of these funding programs and measures have been instrumental in making technology transfer an integral part of university medicine in Berlin. StiftungCharité continues to fund innovation as its longest-standing priority.
A unique private excellence initiative is born
In 2012, Johanna Quandt decided to redouble her support for life sciences in Berlin. With the Private Excellence Initiative Johanna Quandt,she provided Stiftung Charité with an endowment of 40 million Euro (in addition to the foundation’s existing fortune) for a ten-year period from 2013 to 2022. This remains one of the largest donations ever made by a private individual in Germany. The Private Excellence Initiative supported the foundation of the Berlin Institute of Health alongside substantial public funding from the federal government and the state of Berlin. It also enabled Stiftung Charité to support the further development of the Berlin Institute of Health and its translational cooperation with Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) with various scientific funding programs. The main aim was to support exceptional scientists at all stages of their academic careers with scholarships and professorships.
The record of the Private Excellence Initiative speaks for itself: across 18 different programs, 270 funding approvals were issued and 569 different research scientists received funding. Those funded are at all stages of their careers and span the entire field of life sciences. They include three Nobel prizewinners, 34 recipients of funding from the European Research Council (ERC grantees) and four Leibniz prizewinners. Many fellows and guests at medical faculties and university clinics abroad count among those funded, meaning that promoting internationalism has become a trademark of the Private Excellence Initiative. Some of the programs at Stiftung Charité have been so innovative that they have been adopted or adapted by other funding agencies. These include the Clinician Scientist Program, developed and piloted by Stiftung Charité to fund clinical researchers during their specialist training, the Johanna Quandt Professorships which support early-career female researchers with a real tenure track program and promote thematic openness in professorship advertisements, and the Einstein BIH Visiting Fellow Program, which has intensified the international collaborations of leading scientists in Germany. Between 2013 and 2022, the Private Excellence Initiative made research funding the second main purpose of the foundation.
Looking to the future
In 2021, Stefan Quandt (who succeeded his mother after her death in 2015 on the boards of the foundation) and his sister Susanne Klatten decided to continue to support the work of Stiftung Charité with further private donations. They were inspired by the success of the research funding from the Private Excellence Initiative as the project neared its end. This additional funding has enabled Stiftung Charité to further develop its main funding areas of innovation and research from 2022 onwards. The additional capital from the Quandt and Klatten families has also enabled a third key area for the foundation to be established, namelyOpen Life Science.The aim is toincrease public confidence in the life sciences based on new foundations, which will consider societal accountability and public participation more than ever before. Stiftung Charité will initially focus on the interface between science and media, developing new funding opportunities for science communication.
The history of Stiftung Charité is still relatively young. Since its foundation by a single entrepreneur, it has maintained an entrepreneurial outlook as a private foundation right into the present day. It strives to be just as innovative and future oriented as the projects and scientists that it funds.