FMI An FMI-laboratory in 1978

April 8, 2020

The Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research turns 50

On April 8, 1970, the founding charter of the FMI was signed. For 50 years, the FMI has stayed true to its initial mission: To promote basic research in the fields of biochemistry and medicine, and to train young scientists. Today, with over 340 associates, the Basel-based research institute is a worldwide leader in the fields of neurobiology, epigenetics and quantitative biology.

The FMI was founded by Ciba AG and J.R. Geigy AG – two Basel-based pharmaceutical companies that would merge and grow to become Novartis in 1996 (upon merger with Sandoz). Their common goal was to bridge the gap between high level academic research and the pharmaceutical industry. The new joint institute was given the freedom to pursue open-ended biological research, but was asked to interact with company scientists so that new discoveries could influence pharmaceutical development – a novel and visionary step at the time. The institute was named after Friedrich Miescher, the Basel biochemist who discovered nucleic acids in 1869, 100 years before the institute was founded.

50 years of scientific excellence
The reputation of the FMI was established early on by developments such as the Western blot, a widely used analytical technique to detect and identify proteins. Until the early 2000s, one research focus was plant genetics, where FMI researchers developed pioneering transgenic technologies. At the same time, the FMI focused increasingly on cancer research; fundamental insights in this area have repeatedly been harnessed by Novartis for the benefit of patients.

Today, the FMI is a leader in biomedical research in the fields of neurobiology, epigenetics and quantitative biology. Our scientists have published nearly 4600 papers, with an average of 83.7 citations/paper, over the past 50 years. The high number of competitive research grants (the FMI ranks first in success rates for the prestigious ERC grants, fellowships and prizes awarded to FMI scientists, are a reflection of the high academic standing of the institute.

In neurobiology, FMI scientists are leading experts in the study of neuronal circuits. They have significantly enhanced our understanding of how neuronal circuits develop and function, how they are maintained or remodeled by learning, and how they give rise to behavior and cognitive functions.

In epigenetics, FMI scientists study how mutation or dysregulation of epigenetic regulators causes pathologies ranging from developmental disorders to cancer, neurological syndromes, and aging-related diseases.

Our quantitative biology groups are dedicated to furthering our understanding of cell and tissue physiology in quantitative terms, in order to provide better parameters for diagnostics and serve as the basis of novel treatments for human disease. In addition, the FMI develops state of the-art technologies for use in activities ranging from quantitative microscopy, through structural investigation of “molecular machines” within cells, to complex genome-wide analyses of gene expression.

50 years of training of young scientists
The founding charter of the FMI also stipulated that the new institute should “provide opportunities to young scientists from around the world to take part in scientific research.” The FMI established close ties with the University of Basel and has participated in the graduate teaching program ever since. Over the past 50 years, nearly 670 doctoral students have been trained at the FMI. Many of them subsequently took on leading roles in the pharmaceutical industry or in university research around the world. The FMI currently employs about 340 people, representing 43 nationalities. Over 100 coworkers are postdoctoral fellows and nearly 80 are PhD students – most of them supported by Swiss and European research grants.

50 years of collaboration with Novartis
The FMI receives generous support from the Novartis Research foundation. At the same time, FMI scientists have always been and remain fully independent in defining their research questions. This long-term support of fundamental biomedical research and the training of scientists is highly remarkable and quite unique.

Insight, innovation and novel approaches are the gifts that basic research institutes like the FMI have to offer to those in industry who seek to put biomedical understanding to work for the benefit of patients. Throughout its 50 years of existence, the FMI has successfully helped translate basic biomedical findings for the drug discovery process. From research at the frontiers of understanding, to the elaboration of new methods and technologies, FMI scientists have supported in the background the development of various Novartis drugs.

» Learn more about the FMI history


Due to the Covid-19 situation and its impact on traveling and group gatherings the planned Celebration symposium and public symposia will unfortunately not take place as planned.

FMI An FMI-laboratory in 1978