Dr. Engelbert Günster: Science and innovative health solutions in Rhineland-Palatinate

Science and research play a decisive role in Germany. They are both key factors in international competition and form a central component of the welfare and prosperity of our society. Rhineland-­­Palatinate is well-positioned as a state with a wide-ranging and dynamic science and research landscape. Renowned inter­­national companies are located here, alongside many medium-sized companies and innovative start-ups. In addition, Rhineland-Palatinate has a number of universities and research institutes with excellent facilities and a broad range of subject areas. For example, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz – one of Germany’s ten largest universities – is the only university in Germany that brings together almost all of its institutes in a campus close to the city centre. This pro­­­­vides students with excellent options in research and teaching. Even beyond uni­­versity studies, young people have good prospects in Rhineland-Palatinate. There is demand for well-educated specialists in the chemical and pharmaceutical in­­dus­­­tries in particular. Thanks to its mixture of universities and industrial re­search centres, Rhineland-Palat­­i­nate is a leading location for these in­­no­­vative sectors.

The chemical and pharmaceutical in­­dus­­tries can look back on more than one hundred years of history in our region. These are also the most important indus­­trial sectors in Rhineland-Palatinate in terms of revenue and employment: they gen­­erate around 30 per cent of the re­­venue in the state and some 20 per cent of all employees earn their money through them.
Rhineland-Palatinate boasts two global players in this sector, with Boehringer Ingelheim in Ingelheim and BASF in Ludwigshafen. Both companies offer a broad portfolio of innovative products. Plastics and chemicals from BASF are in international demand, while medication from Boehringer Ingelheim, such as for the treatment of respiratory and car­­diovascular diseases, are standard in therapy worldwide. Furthermore, the family-owned company Boehringer Ingel­heim, which is among the world’s 20 leading pharmaceutical companies, has suc­­cessfully expanded its research ac­­tivities in thromboembolic diseases, car­­dio­­metabolic diseases and cancer. Over 42,000 staff on all continents are working on research, development, production and marketing for new medications with high therapeutic value for human and animal health, true to the company vision: “Value through Innovation”. But it is not just the large reference com­­panies that embody the spirit of research and innovation in Rhineland-Palatinate.

A number of small and medium-sized companies contribute to achieving the pharmaceutical and chemical industries’ export rate of over 62 per cent with 55,000 staff. Young, innovative companies are setting up in the Mainz area in particular, taking advantage of the scientific environment and the local infrastructure of technology centres. It is no coincidence that Mainz was named “City of Science” last year. The city’s dedication and the contributions from specific scientific and economic projects to city development were decisive to the award of this title. Twelve months filled with events and “a passion for science” have since passed. Boehringer Ingelheim made an active contribution with ten further edu­­cation presentations. The diverse range of presentations spanned topics on research for human and animal health to the embodiment of com­­pany values in its corporate culture. Science­­­­related communication continues in Mainz, even after the year of science 2011: The “Na­­turhistorisches Museum Mainz” (Mu­­­­seum of Natural History), one of the city’s museums closely involved in research, has joined forces with Boehringer Ingel­­heim for an exhibition on “How a medicine is created”.


Mainz is a leading and well-liked university city beyond Rhineland-Palatinate’s borders, too. The figures are proof enough of this: around 40,000 students are en­­rolled at the three main universities, which cover almost all academic subject areas – Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Mainz University of Applied Sci­­ences and Mainz Catholic University of Applied Sciences.

Furthermore, two Max Planck Institutes are located in Mainz: the Max Planck Ins­­titute for Chemistry and the Max Planck Ins­­titute for Polymer Research are both situated at the Johannes Gutenberg Uni­­versity campus. With their diverse range of research areas, the institutes comple­ment the work of the universities and other research institutes. In addition to the close cooperation with the Max-Planck Society, a close collaboration has also been established with the Helmholtz and Leibniz Associations in recent years.

The natural sciences in Mainz also rank among the top in international research rankings. The Academic Ranking of World Universities 2011 counts the Institute for Physics at Johannes Gutenberg Uni­­versity among the top 75 worldwide. The Institute for Molecular Biology (IMB) at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz is a prime example of the dedication of the industry to fundamental university research in Rhineland-Palatinate. The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation is funding the establishment and operation of this international centre of excellence with a total of 100 million euros for a dur­­ation of ten years. Rhineland-Palatinate is therefore receiving one of the largest private donations that has ever been given to a scientific institution at a university. This basic funding ensures that the researchers at the institute have access to state-of-the-art technologies and can work on major projects in the long term. The state of Rhineland-Pal­­atinate has also contributed to funding the establishment of this centre of excellence by having a new building constructed, which will offer renowned scientists an excellent working environment. As a result, the newly founded institute fulfils international standards for cutting-edge re­­search – another gain for the science sector in Rhineland-Palatinate.

Fundamental research at the Institute  for Physics, University of Mainz.

Fundamental research at the Institute for Physics, University of Mainz.

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 Another successful example of the imple­­mentation of science in companies’ work in the health care/pharma/chemical sector are the clusters and networks in Rhine­­land-Palatinate, which bring together com­­panies, research and development insti­­tutions, educational institutions, service providers, chambers and associations in target-driven cooperation. A few representative examples include CI3 (cluster for individualised immunity intervention), whose members include over 200 small and medium-sized companies in addition to well-established companies in the Rhine-Main region, BioRN (Biotech Cluster Rhine-Neckar), which is structured similarly, and the Health Care Management Initiative Rhineland-Palatinate of the Minis­­­­tries for the Economy and Health. “Natur­stoff­­zentrum Rheinland-Pfalz” (Natural Materials Centre) at Johannes Gutenberg University is also worth mentioning, as well as the leading-edge TRON oncology research centre in Mainz, where the uni­­versity, uni­­versity medical centre and biotech start-up companies cooperate closely in trans­­ferring the results of scien­­tific research into the development of inno­­vative cancer therapy concepts.



engelbert_guenster-KopieThe author studied chemistry and completed a PhD in macromolecular chemistry in Mainz. He has been working at Boehr­­inger Ingelheim for 28 years. Dr. Günster was a country manager in Can­ada and responsible for the prescription medicines business in Europe and the AAA region (Asia, Africa, Aus­­tra­lia). He has been country manager of Boehringer Ingel­­­heim in Germany since April 2009.