Germany is one of the leading actors in the pursuit of researching, fighting and ultimately annihilating cancer. On this page, we want to give you more information on the German research landscape in the field of cancer research and highlight some players and institutions that work towards this goal. Learn more about who does cancer research in Germany, where you can get the right funding for your work in this field and get in touch with the right people that can help you join the fight against cancer in Germany.
Who does cancer research in Germany?
Cancer research in Germany is conducted at universities and also at non-university research institutions. Almost all universities host a cancer research section. The spectrum ranges from small monothematic working groups to large interdisciplinary departments and covers a variety of topics from traditional areas to new explorative research fields.
For a comprehensive overview, please take a look at our brochure “Research in Germany - Cancer Research”:
Research in Germany - Cancer Research (2021, 32 pages)
Are you interested in pursuing your PhD or getting cooperation partners in the field of Cancer Research in Germany? We invite you to explore the many opportunities available to you in Germany. This brochure provides students, early career researchers and partners from abroad with information to find places of interest and potential cooperation partners in their specific field.Download (PDF, 2 MB)
On top of this, there is a lot more to discover: the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) funds a multitude of individual projects in the area of cancer research. These individual grants outweigh the research consortia that are listed in the brochure both in number and in overall funding volume. The online database GEPRIS provides information on all DFG-funded research projects. Use this online database to find out which scientists in Germany work in your field of expertise!
Research institutions focusing on cancer research
Here are some examples of outstanding institutions and projects that focus on cancer research, both at non-university and university-based research institutions:
The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) is the largest biomedical research institute in Germany and a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers. In over 90 divisions and research groups, more than 3,000 employees, of which more than 1,200 are scientists, are investigating the mechanisms of cancer, are identifying cancer risk factors and are trying to find strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They are developing novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful. (Source: https://www.dkfz.de/en/dkfz/index.html)
Talent management and career development at the DKFZ plays a central role in maintaining excellence. Structured education of graduate students is provided by the DKFZ International PhD Program and, together with the DKFZ International Postdoc Program and an established Career Service, our training programs prepare junior scientists for their next career step inside or outside of academia. The new DKFZ Clinician Scientist Program fosters innovative translational research by strengthening the research profile of clinician scientists.
The DKFZ offers various job and career opportunities for cancer researchers of all career levels. Actual job offers can be accessed here.
German Cancer Research Center
Im Neuenheimer Feld 280
Cluster of Excellence “Image-Guided and Functionally Instructed Tumor Therapies (iFIT)”
The Cluster of Excellence 2180 "Image-guided and Functionally Instructed Tumor Therapies" (iFIT) is the only oncology cluster of excellence in Germany and situated at the University of Tübingen. As part of the Excellence Strategy, a funding program of the federal and state governments in cooperation with the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the German Council of Science and Humanities (WR), the program supports German universities in expanding competitive international top-level research. Since 1st of January 2019, internationally renowned scientists and talented young researchers have been working together in this consortium in a globally unique collaboration of three different research areas to develop new, individualized cancer therapies.
Functional target identification and molecular tumor therapies
The first research area is concerned with functional target identification and molecular tumor therapies. It is primarily concerned with functionally investigating the complex physiology of tumor cells and finding new therapies. To study the physiology of tumor cells, screening tools are available that allow to decompose biological processes into their individual components and thus to better understand them. Another important aspect of the research area is the identification of so-called "non-oncogenomes", which may have a lower tendency to develop therapy resistances. The "non-oncogenome" is defined as a genome that is involved in physiological adaptations of cancer cells due to stress.
The research area Immunotherapy addresses the question of how innovative immunotherapies can help to activate the patient's own defense system against tumor cells and thus support targeted drug therapy. One remarkable finding of the research area is the development of the concept of individualized cancer peptide vaccination. The therapeutic concept behind this is to inject those peptides that are present on cancer cells but not on normal cells into the patient together with a novel vaccine booster, also developed in Tübingen, so that the T cells of the immune system can fight the cancer. T cells recognize fragments from cellular proteins, so-called peptides, which are "presented" on special cell surface molecules.
Molecular and functional multiparametric imaging
The research area Molecular and Functional Multiparametric Imaging deals with the question how multiparametric imaging can be further developed to achieve a quantifiable visualization of functional, molecular and immunological mechanisms of tumors. The overall goal is to develop novel targeted tracers and MR biomarkers to image cellular stress and related metabolic changes of tumor cells during tumor development and after therapy.
Spokesperson and participating institutions
Spokesperson of the cluster is the oncologist Professor Lars Zender, Medical Director of the department of Internal Medicine VIII - Medical oncology and pneumology of the University Hospital of Tübingen. Co-spokespersons are Professor Bernd Pichler, Director of the Werner Siemens Imaging Center at the University of Tübingen, and immunologist Professor Hans-Georg Rammensee. Further participating institutions in the cluster are the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, the Natural and Medical Sciences Institute at the University of Tübingen, the Margarete Fischer Bosch Institute for Clinical Pharmacology and the German Cancer Consortium.
iFIT Cluster of Excellence
Fraunhofer ITEM is one of 74 institutions of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Europe's leading organization for applied research. Headquartered in Hannover (Germany) and with additional facilities in Braunschweig and Regensburg, the institute aims to protect man from health hazards in our industrialized world and to contribute to the development of novel therapeutic approaches.
The Fraunhofer ITEM division in Regensburg is dedicated to Personalized Tumor Therapy and has a special expertise in the isolation and characterization of disseminated or circulating cancer cells. Circulating tumor cells (CTC) are isolated, for example, by taking simple blood samples (referred to as “liquid biopsy”), whereas disseminated cancer cells (DCC) can be isolated from lymph node tissue or bone marrow. These rare cells are subject to in-house, advanced next-generation multi-omics sequencing technologies and bioinformatic data analysis to reliably analyze the comprehensive genetic information at the single-cell level. Further expertise includes the analysis of cell-free, tumor-derived blood components (circulating tumor DNA, microvesicles) and innovative tissue-based analytical methods (tissue biopsy). Additionally, supported by a large clinical network, Fraunhofer ITEM in Regensburg is developing workflows for rare-cell expansion and has already established a multitude of in-vitro/in-vivo models based on DCC or CTC from various tumor entities. These preclinical models are used for high-throughput screening of substances and RNAi/CRISPR libraries to identify active agents and targets to gain a better functional understanding of DCC and CTC biology and of their response to therapy. This provides new opportunities not only for molecular diagnostics in precision oncology, but also for the investigation of pathophysiological processes in rare driver cells.
In addition, ex-vivo models developed by the institute’s Division of Preclinical Pharmacology and Toxicology in Hannover offer a novel opportunity to study early stages of metastasis and primary human tumors. Precision-cut tissue slice (PCTS) systems either from tumor tissue or peripheral organs co-cultured with tumor cells enable the investigation of human tissue-derived immune reactions, for instance key events of immune tolerance to tumor cells or early colonization events in metastasis. This facilitates testing of treatments such as gene therapy, checkpoint inhibitors or cell therapeutics with regard to their mode of action, targeting, efficacy and toxicity in an organotypic human setting. The particular value of such a model is based on 1) human background, addressing the complexity of the appropriated microenvironment, 2) patient-specificity of the tumor cells in order to reflect tumor heterogeneity, 3) immune competence to assess the tolerance-inducing mechanisms, and 4) applicability of molecular and cellular manipulation and analysis tools.
Research on personalized tumor therapy is one of several key topics at Fraunhofer ITEM. Focusing on lung and inhalation, the institute’s divisions in Hannover and Braunschweig have pooled their expertise in three business units:
In the business unit Drug Development, we develop and test novel medications against respiratory diseases (including lung cancer). Scientific expertise covers manufacturing of biologics such as therapeutic antibodies, preclinical and clinical development.
The business unit Chemical Safety is dedicated to determining the risks from potentially harmful substances. Scientific expertise includes toxicology testing, exposure assessment, analytical methods, regulatory research and risk assessment.
The business unit Translational Biomedical Engineering offers many years of experience in the development of medical devices – specifically neural implants and medical aerosolizers – including testing and testing scenarios, safety and risk assessment.
All business units offer regulatory support.
Numerous test systems are available, including in-vitro, ex-vivo and in-vivo. Studies can be performed in compliance with GXP regulations.
Funding for international cancer researchers in Germany
Whether you are a young international researcher looking for a scholarship, an early career researcher wanting to pursue a PhD in the field of cancer research at a German graduate school, or a more experienced researcher who wants to start a collaboration with a German partner – the right funding programme can help you with your next career step. Finding the right programme can make all the difference.
For an overview of funding opportunities, please see our brochure about funding programmes for international researchers:
Funding your research in Germany (2021-22, 76 pages)
A selection of funding programmes for German and foreign academics run by the most important research funding institutions. Target group: international students, graduates, post-docs and academics interested in a research stay in Germany.Download (PDF, 6 MB)
Most of the funding programmes that are included in the brochure, are offered by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. You can find more detailed descriptions of these organizations here:
Get in touch with us!
To help you navigate through the German cancer research landscape and find the right funding programme for your needs, we invite you to get in touch with us!
American Friends of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation:
Ms. Alexis Brouwer-Ancher email@example.com
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation):
Dr. Stefan Thiel firstname.lastname@example.org, Department II, Life Sciences
Dr. Anke Deggerich email@example.com, Department II, Life Sciences
Ms. Sonja Schaffartzik Sonja.firstname.lastname@example.org, International Research Marketing
Ms. Bettina Schuffert Bettina.email@example.com, DFG Office North America
German Academic Exchange Service:
Ms. Solveig Berkman firstname.lastname@example.org, DAAD Office New York
iFIT Cluster of Excellence "Image-guided and Functionally Instructed Tumor Therapies":
Ms. Eva Enzinger email@example.com