Information for Researchers, No. 69 | September 30, 2022

Results of the Evaluation of the Programme Variant Clinical Research Units (CRU)

Since 1962, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has funded Research Units (RU) as Coordinated Programmes, and since 2001 also Clinical Research Units (CRU) in different variants. The DFG programme CRU pursues the following goals:

  • support highly original research projects which reflect an outstanding level of scientific quality
  • address clinical questions with a focus on translational research with patient-oriented approaches and elucidation of disease mechanisms
  • intensify collaboration between scientists involved in fundamental research and clinicians
  • strengthen the scientific profile and focus at the university medical institution
  • financial support of the Clinical Research Unit by the university medical institution
  • create and strengthen research-oriented structures at university medical institutions and establish and/or strengthen training structures in clinical research

After almost 15 years of funding of the current variant, the DFG has now comprehensively evaluated the funding instrument of the CRU with the help of the external agency inspire research in order to shed light on the extent to which the programme has achieved these goals. Should the funding instrument continue to be necessary and the goals prove not to be achievable through other funding programmes, suggestions from the scientific community are to be considered with a view to developing the funding instrument further and adapting it to the current needs of clinical research. The evaluation was closely accompanied by an Evaluation Commission consisting of members of the DFG Senate Commission on Key Questions in Clinical Research as well as an expert in medical sociology and empirical social research.

The evaluation indicates that the funding instrument of the CRU sets and strengthens priorities at the respective university medical institutions. The CRU has led to the lasting establishment and strengthening of research-supporting structures in terms of infrastructure, support for those in early career phases, lead professorships and temporary substitute positions. No other DFG funding instrument was or is capable of achieving these goals: as a subject-specific funding instrument, the CRU has contributed to the positive development of university medical institutions overall and should therefore be retained in the DFG’s funding portfolio. There is still a need for action, however, especially with regard to career development opportunities for doctors working in science at university hospitals. For this reason, the recommendation is that the DFG continue to strengthen university medical institutions in expanding their support structures for scientific staff in both the early and later stages of their careers, and that university medical institutions continue their efforts to facilitate the three-pronged approach of excellent patient care, teaching and research at university hospitals.

At their meetings on 28 and 29 September 2022, the DFG Senate and Joint Committee approved the recommendations elaborated by the Evaluation Commission concerning the retention and further development of the CRU as a funding instrument. These recommendations are now to be implemented promptly. From 1 January 2023, modified regulations will therefore apply to newly submitted drafts under the CRU programme which will be published in more detail on the DFG website soon:

  • The establishment of a research professorship whose holder is responsible for the scientific and organisational management of the CRU should be retained as a core element of a CRU. University medical institutions are to guarantee that the CRU lead professorship is retained. This will continue to make it an attractive option.
  • If a professorship is already integrated at the institution (e. g. an endowed professorship or a professorship which is already occupied and well suited to the CRU in terms of subject matter) and this is having a clearly recognisable impact on the formation of structures at the university medical institution, it is not necessary to establish an additional lead professorship for the CRU.
  • The resource requirement for the lead professorship after the expiry of the eight-year CRU funding by the DFG will be changed to the usual level for a professorship at the respective location at the given time. A defined minimum requirement will remain, however.
  • In order to support university medical institutions that have already established Clinician Scientist programmes in further expanding these, the DFG will fund all temporary substitute positions requested for the CRU at these institutions, providing the review panel approves this and has arrived at a positive assessment of the existing Clinician Scientist programmes. In such cases, the previous expectation that the university medical institution provide reciprocal financing of temporary substitute positions will no longer apply in future.
  • The existing option for members of the CRU of all disciplines and at all career stages to apply for targeted funding to support their academic career is to be promoted more intensively in future. The concepts to be submitted are to include ideas and measures for career advancement for both clinically and non-clinically active scientists.
  • Since the “location principle” of a CRU guarantees the effective setting of priorities at a university medical institution, this will be retained. In future, however, it will be possible to apply for a scientific project as part of a CRU at another location in justified cases where this generates additional expertise and added value for the CRU.

For draft CRU proposals submitted before 1 January 2023, the previously applicable rules apply in full (incl. revision of the draft proposal, establishment proposal and later the renewal proposal, where relevant).

Further Information

The DFG’s final report and statement on the evaluation of the CRU programme on the DFG website:

Contact persons at the DFG Head Office

On the evaluation:

On the CRU programme: