Top research in the fight against cancer

The MHH plus funding foundation honours Professor Dr Christoph Huber and PD Dr Anna Saborowski / Award ceremony by Science Minister Björn Thümler and MHH President Prof. Michael Manns

MHH President Prof. Dr. Michael Manns and the two award winners PD Dr. Anna Saborowski and Prof. Dr. Christoph Huber as well as Science Minister Björn Thümler

MHH President Prof. Dr. Michael Manns and the two award winners PD Dr. Anna Saborowski and Prof. Dr. Christoph Huber as well as Science Minister Björn Thümler Copyright: Karin Kaiser / MHH


The Johann Georg Zimmermann Research Prize and the Johann Georg Zimmermann Medal are among the highest awards for merit in cancer research in Germany. The Förderstiftung MHH plus awarded the prizes on Monday, 13 June 2022, at the Hannover Medical School (MHH). Lower Saxony's Minister for Science and Culture Björn Thümler presented the awards together with MHH President Prof. Dr. Michael Manns.

"The Johann Georg Zimmermann Prize is one of Germany's most important awards in the field of cancer research. A look at the biography of the person who gave the award its name makes it amazingly clear how current and relevant his life and work are for today's medical discourse. Today's laureates exemplify the potential of modern cancer research," says Lower Saxony's Minister of Science Björn Thümler. "I congratulate Dr. Anna Saborowski and Prof. Dr. Christoph Huber from the bottom of my heart. Not least because strengthening transfer, translation and science communication remains a matter close to my heart - not only in the fight against common diseases."

Prof. Dr. Christoph Huber, former head of the III Medical Clinic at the University Hospital Mainz and co-founder of the company BionTech, was awarded the Johann Georg Zimmermann Medal for his services to immunotherapy in oncological diseases. His work on the translational development of mRNA vaccination technology has significantly changed the treatment of solid tumours and infectious diseases such as SARS-CoV 2. In addition, as a company co-founder and scientific networker, he has repeatedly set new impulses in the fight against cancer.

The Johann Georg Zimmermann Research Prize, endowed with 10,000 euros, was awarded to Dr Anna Saborowski from the Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology at the MHH. As a Clinical Scientist at the interface between patient care and basic research, she significantly advances the further development of therapeutic approaches for the treatment of bile duct carcinoma.

"With Prof. Dr. Christoph Huber, we are honouring one of the outstanding and most innovative oncologists of our time, who, together with his colleagues and companions, paved the way for the immunotherapy of tumours in everyday clinical practice," emphasises MHH President Prof. Dr. Michael Manns. "And PD Dr Anna Saborowski's research shows how significant personalised tumour therapy is for overcoming therapy resistance."

Outstanding researcher and networker

Prof. Dr. Christoph Huber is considered one of the pioneers and visionaries of immunological cancer research, the trend-setting potential of which the Vienna-born researcher recognised as early as the 1970s. In 2008, Professor Huber was one of the co-founders of the Mainz biotechnology companies Ganymed and BioNTech, with which he was or is associated as a member of the supervisory board. Christoph Huber studied medicine in Innsbruck, also completed his specialist training in internal medicine there and also completed his habilitation there. In 1983 he founded one of the first European stem cell transplantation facilities in Innsbruck. From 1990, Prof. Huber shaped the III Medical Clinic and Polyclinic of the University Medical Centre Mainz for almost 20 years - under his aegis it became an internationally leading institution for the treatment of malignant blood and tumour diseases and a centre for stem cell transplantation and palliative medicine. Thanks to his commitment, numerous research results in cancer immunotherapy could be transferred from the laboratory to clinical application. In the companies Ganymed and BionTech, founded with Prof. Ugur Sahin and Prof. Özlem Türeci, more than a dozen highly innovative immunotherapeutics are now on the way to market and the first Covid-19 vaccine has been approved.  Prof. Huber has been impressively active as a reviewer and officer in national and international research funding organisations and as a scientific advisor in major German research institutions such as the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, the GSF Research Center for Environment and Health in Munich and the Max Delbrück Center in Berlin. His flair for innovative ideas, his eye for outstanding scientists and his skill in bringing the two together are what particularly distinguish the recipient of the Federal Cross of Merit, the Future Prize of the Federal President and honorary citizen of the cities of Mainz and Innsbruck. Prof. Huber is also the author of more than 450 scientific publications in renowned journals, editor of numerous international scientific journals, of the German-language standard textbook "Die innere Medizin" (Internal Medicine) and of the first guide to cancer immunotherapy.

Treating cancer patients in an appropriate way

Cancers of the bile ducts and liver are the special field of PD Dr. Anna Saborowski, Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology at the MHH. The 40-year-old focuses on the molecular signalling pathways that contribute to the development of malignant tumours and are suitable as targets for targeted therapies.

After her medical studies at the MHH and her basic science training as a post-doctoral researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, NY, Anna Saborowski has taken on the challenges of a "dual career" in science and research: on the one hand, she is involved in the care of patients with gastrointestinal tumour diseases as a doctor, and on the other, she heads a basic science research group. The mother of two children is also actively involved in promoting young researchers, for example as the equal opportunities representative of a collaborative research centre or within the young researchers' committee of the European liver research organisation "EASL". What drives her? "In recent years, an improved understanding of the pathophysiology of malignant diseases has made it possible to integrate completely new concepts into oncological therapies. I believe that these new concepts can be further developed and that we will be able to treat more tumour patients in an individualised way in the near future. Currently working at the interface between clinic and research is extremely exciting and motivating," she says. In the mouse model, for example, Dr Saborowski is researching the influence of certain genetic modifications on a tumour. Is the genetic modification suitable as a target structure for drug therapy approaches? Can premature therapy failure be averted, for example by combining different drugs? Anna Saborowski is looking for answers to these and similar questions.