On September 18th Prof. Dr. Tobias Welte assumes the presidency of the European Respiratory Society (ERS). The society, founded in 1990, organizes experts in pneumology from more than 160 countries. In addition to its role in raising awareness of the issue of lung disease in politics and society, the ERS also supports medical research. ERS International Expert Committees regularly develop common standards for respiratory medicine, thereby contributing to a steady improvement in clinical practice.
Tobias Welte studied medicine at Hannover Medical School (MHH). After stops in Boston and Magdeburg he accepted the position of full professorship at MHH. There he still heads the Clinic for Pulmonology. He is a member of the board of the German Center for Lung Research (DZL) and director of the DZL site BREATH in Hanover. In addition to his work as a pulmonologist, Prof. Welte specialized in intensive care and infection medicine and is a proven expert in the field of influenza research. A particular focus of his work lies in the participation in clinical studies, both industry-funded and scientifically driven (so-called Investigator Initiated Trials). Prof. Welte will focus his ERS presidency on supporting economically weaker countries within the framework of the ERS in a more targeted manner and further strengthening scientific networking within the ERS. The highlight of his presidency will be the ERS Presidential Summit, which will focus on "Unmet Needs in Respiratory Medicine", held from June 06th-07th 2019 at Schloss Herrenhausen in Hanover. Further information on Prof. Welte's plans for his presidency can be found in the following interview.
Professor Welte, what motivated you to apply for the office of President of the ERS? The ERS is the leading pneumological professional society of our time. It organizes the world's largest pneumological congress, offers an excellent education and training program, and in recent years has managed to represent pneumology in politics through its Brussels office. The strength of the ERS is the collaboration of all scientists and clinically active colleagues and the involvement of the national professional societies in the service and for the benefit of pneumology. It is an honor to be able to decisively influence the further development of the ERS and thus also the field of pulmonology as president.
What are your goals for the ERS during your presidency? The ERS is a scientific society that has so far primarily presented scientific results at its events and has encouraged discussion about them. However, until now it has hardly actively designed the scientific process. In recent years the ERS has created structures to bring together scientifically active groups, taking over an active part in shaping future scientific programs. I would like to strengthen this process. My second concern is to promote the economically weaker countries in a more targeted way within the ERS. One of the reasons for the steady growth of the ERS is that the US is becoming unattractive to more and more people, scientists, clinicians and patients, mainly for political reasons. Many, especially the Asian and African countries, but also South America, are increasingly looking towards Europe. However, the needs of these countries are different from those of European countries, especially the economically strong Western European countries. The ERS should respond to these changing needs and meet the expectations of these countries in all areas, but especially in terms of education, training and patient care. Initiating new programs here is certainly a goal for my presidency.
In your opinion, what is the most important achievement in pulmonology in recent years? Pulmonology, whose historical roots lie in the treatment of tuberculosis patients, has long missed the opportunity to shape modern, molecular and cell biological medicine. In recent years, this deficit has been compensated for and has developed modern diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, such as therapy with biologicals. This is an important step towards a more precise, disease-oriented medicine. The introduction of immuno-oncologic agents into bronchial carcinoma therapy and cytokine antagonists in severe asthma are the salient examples of this success.
What current developments do you see in pneumological research? Many pneumological diseases, such as the widespread disease COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), are clinically functionally characterized without fully understanding the disease process. A better understanding of the underlying pathology and the dynamic processes of disease development will provide the basis for new, more successful therapies. This research and development needs high scientific standards, but also large patient cohorts to ensure findings and to verify results. It must be our goal to build the appropriate infrastructures. The ERS can play an essential role in this.
What are the major challenges you currently face in health care - and what role can the ERS play in this? The ERS-affiliated European Lung Foundation (ELF) is one of Europe's largest patient organizations. The ELF gives patients the opportunity to express their needs and identify deficiencies in care. The ERS can learn from the best care systems and establish successful models across national borders. The biggest challenge for the future is that on the one hand, we need a broadly trained doctor to cope with the increasing multimorbidity of an aging society, but on the other hand, medicine will require more complex, specialized knowledge. We will be able to solve the balancing act between basic and special requirements in health care only through cooperation between professional groups, which is an important goal for the future.
What are you most looking forward to during your presidency? Each President holds a Presidential Summit. I will do that on June 5th and 6th 2019 in Herrenhausen Castle under the topic: "The future of research in pulmonology". The pneumological scientific world will meet in Hanover. I am very happy to present our city, our science location.
Prof. Dr. Tobias Welte, president of the European Respiratory Society (ERS)