As the first meeting of its kind, the European Conference of Life Science Funders and Foundations, being held on 26 - 27 April 2016 in Heidelberg, will explore opportunities to positively influence and accelerate the necessary discoveries and their transformation into applications that benefit us all. We asked conference organiser Wilhelm Krull of the Volkswagen Foundation for his thoughts on the upcoming meeting. 


(Photo Credit: Dennis Börsch)

What do you think the public view is in general on life science research? How can we improve it?

Wherever the life sciences can more or less directly demonstrate the usefulness of their research, the view of the media and the public at large is usually very favourable. In future it will become increasingly important for researchers, funders, and policy-makers to jointly underpin the need for even more long-term investments in basic research and to call for patience with respect to the transfer of its results into products and services.

What are the goals of the meeting? What is the outcome you hope to have achieved after everyone leaves Heidelberg?

First of all, the meeting should provide an opportunity for taking stock on what has been achieved so far. But the main emphasis is of course on what could be and what should be done when it comes to positioning the life sciences in the wider discourses of civil society and of future fundraising activities. Beyond an increased awareness for the challenges involved in these processes, I would hope for some role models to be identified as stepping stones for future actions.

What are the ways that life science is funded? What has been successful in the past and what do you see for the future?

So far, almost all of basic research funding in the life sciences has come from public or philanthropic sources. This has been enormously successful. However, given the current status of public finances
 and the low (even negative) interest rates, it seems inevitable to look for other, additional sources of income, in particular from private donors.

How do you see big companies as well as individual people contributing to funding the life sciences?

Companies usually are less inclined to give money for 'blue skies research'.  Individual entrepreneurs, however, are often prepared to donate large sums for life science activities, for example Dietmar Hopp here in Heidelberg. In future it will become even more important to form coalitions of various public and private funders, and to see to it that governments provide strong incentives for private donations, for example by offering matching funds.

Is there anything that the researchers can do to help improve the life science funding environment?

In an increasingly globalised and digitalised world openness and transparency are key to successfully building trust in other's intentions and operations. Therefore, researchers themselves are more and more required to interact with a variety of different stakeholders, to listen to their concerns, and to explain to them what their project or programme is up to. These often quite intensive communicative interactions must be viewed as opportunities for establishing personal relations, and perhaps even  for future friend and fund raising.

Interested in attending? Register by 11 April!