History of the Georg-Speyer-Haus

The “Georg-Speyer-Haus“ institute for biomedical research can look back on 100 years of history. If you want to understand the institute’s history, you have to go back to the year 1895, the so-called “Gründerzeit“ in Frankfurt.

In these years the energetic major of Frankfurt Franz Bouchard Ernst Adickes initiated to use every possibility to support intellectual capacities [cf. Bäumler, S. 122]. Following these plans, he applied to the Head of the Ministry Friedrich Althoff, who was a central figure within the German educational policy and its financing at that time. Thanks to these personalities Paul Ehrlich as scientific capacity came to Frankfurt as director of the newly opened Royal Institute of Experimental Therapy.

Picture of the Royal Institute of Experimental Therapy, Sandhofstraße 44, district Sachsenhausen.

Ludwig Darmstädter, one of the most important and influential characters within the institute’s history, soon backed the scientific and economic potential of Paul Ehrlich’s work. Thanks to him, Franziska Speyer, widow of patron Georg Speyer, donated 1 million Goldmark in 1904, which provided the basis for today’s Georg-Speyer-Haus. In 1905 mayor Franz Adickes allocated land for building next to the Royal Institute of Experimental Therapy. By it’s completion the Georg-Speyer-Haus became the property of the city of Frankfurt. Therefore the city is responsible for the maintenance of the institute.On September 3rd 1906 the Georg-Speyer-Haus had a grand opening and was handed over to it’s first director Paul Ehrlich.

Picture of the Georg-Speyer-Haus at it’s opening September 3rd 1906.

During his life, Paul Ehrlich established many theories and worked hard as chemist, physician, serologist, and immunologist, but even nowadays he still has the same excellent reputation than in his lifetime. He is one of the founders of experimental medicine, modern chemotherapy, and immunology. In 1908 he got the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine.

One of his theories is, that there is a magic bullet to every illness of the human body, which will only attack and eliminate the related illness. This idea illustrates the – for the first time applied – systematic search of a specific agent, which takes effect against syphilis. He started his experiments of efficiency with Atoxyl, an arsenic compound. After a long lasting marathon of examinations of possible substances Alfred Bertheimer was able to synthesize Asphenamin. Together with Sahachiro Hata (* March 23rd 1873; † November 22nd 1938), a Japanese visiting scientist, Paul Ehrlich was able to prove the efficiency of the so-called “compound 606“. When Salvarsan entered the market, it was possible to heal syphilis, one of the most lethal infectious diseases in Europe for the first time.

Paul Ehrlich established a whole network of international contacts, which enabled research beyond national as well as language borders. This network brought Sahachiro Hata and later on in 1912 Paul Karrer to the institute. The Nobel prize laureate of 1937 was meant to research for a period of six years at the Georg-Speyer-Haus, but was then called to the University of Zurich. In 1919 Karrer took the direction of the chemical institute at Zurich’s university.

Two years after Paul Ehrlich’s death in 1915 Wilhelm Kolle took the direction of both institutes until 1935. During his period as director a fundamental improvement of the financial situation of the Georg-Speyer-Haus was made. In 1921 Ludwig Darmstädter initiated a complete separation between the “Georg and Franziska Speyer scholarship foundation“, which was now meant to support Frankfurt’s university, and the “Georg-Speyer-Haus”. This separation was made to guarantee the returns of Salvarsan licences for the Georg-Speyer-Haus and therefore for financing the ongoing research. From now on the “Georg-Speyer-Haus“ is an independent and charitable foundation to support research at the institute of the same name.

Even the improvement of Salvarsan (“Neosalvarsan“) and an important constructional action took place during Kolle’s time. In 1922 the buildings of the Royal Institute of Experimental Therapy and the Chemotherapeutical Research Insitute Georg-Speyer-Haus were connected. Additionally the Ferdinand-Blum-Institut was integrated within the complex of buildings, which even exists today.

Picture of the buildings of the Royal Institute of Experimental Therapy and the Chemotherapeutical Research Institute Georg-Speyer-Haus, which had been united in 1922. The integrated Ferdinand-Blum-Institut was behind these buildings, but a picture of that time is not preserved.

In 1935 Richard Otto took the direction of both institutes over until 1948. Deep changes came over the Georg-Speyer-Haus during the time of the Nazi regime. Being founded by a Jewish family with lots of Jewish employees in managing positions the Georg-Speyer-Haus became a victim of Aryanization. Within the try to remove all Jewish from the institute, all Jewish employees were released, all writings of Paul Ehrlich were removed from the institute’s library, and the institute was renamed “Research Institute of Chemotherapy”. During WWII chemotherapy is developed in the area of tuberculosis, leprosy, and typhus. Furthermore tumour research is pursued. Beside these studies military related work has to be done, i.e. development of synthetic rubber, of a vaccine against typhus, and of serums against toxic gas and gas gangrene. The Georg-Speyer-Haus building is hardly touched during the 1944 bombings whereas the National Institute for Experimental Therapy is extensively destroyed and afterwards was partly moved to Marburg.

Pictures of the Royal Institute of Experimental Therapy from 1944.

After 1945 measures of Aryanization were countermanded. In 1947 Günter K. Schwerin, grandson of Paul Ehrlich and part of the military administration, achieved, that the former Royal and meanwhile National Institute for Experimental Therapy is allowed to bear the name of its first director: Paul-Ehrlich-Institut National Institute for Experimental Therapy.

When Richard Prigge took over the direction of both institutes in 1949, the budget of the Georg-Speyer-Haus foundation, which had been around 10 million German Mark before the monetary reform, declined to 130,000 German Mark. The Salvarsan licences had been phased out and therefore there are hardly any earnings. In 1950 the financial situation of the Georg-Speyer-Haus is improved by joining the Königssteiner convention, which defines a common funding of bigger research institutes by the federal states.

From 1962 on Günther Heymann manages the Georg-Speyer-Haus as well as the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut on a temporary basis until Niels Kaj Jerne the later on Nobel prize winner becomes director in 1966. But Jerne accepted a call and left the institute to take over the management of the Institute of Immunology in Basel. Again Günther Heymann takes over as the institute’s director on a temporary basis. During his term the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut becomes an independent authority because of the “act of the establishment of a federal office for sera and vaccines”.

In 1974 Hans Dieter Brede was called to be director of both institutes. He introduced immune therapeutical research to the Georg-Speyper-Haus. During his term the personal union between the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut and the Georg-Speyer-Haus had been dissolved and since 1987 the spatial separation began. The separation was finished in May 1990 by the dedication of the new Paul-Ehrlich-Institut in Langen.

Already in 1987 Helga Rübsamen-Waigmann took the directorship of the Georg-Speyer-Haus. By the time of the first HIV infection in Germany she intensified the immunological research at the institute. Thanks to the productive neighbourhood with the university hospital a German research institute is able to isolate HIV strains out of patients and to characterize them for the first time. The ways to diagnostic tests were free and brought income from royalties for many years. 1993 Mrs. Rübsamen-Waigmann went to Bayer as director of virology and later on infectiology.

Hans Dieter Brede took again the directorate of the Georg-Speyer-Haus on a temporary basis. This time until he died. His efforts were to push research and to modernize the institute as well as to stabilize its economical situtation. He achieved both. From 1995 to 1997 the whole complex of buildings was refurbished and modernized from the public purse (Federal Ministry of Health and Hessian Ministry of Science and Art).

Since 1998 under directorship of Bernd Groner research on tumour biology is emphasized and the collaboration with the university, the university hospital, and other research institutes in and around Frankfurt is intensified. The interdisciplinary collaboration at the location is supported well directed by the establishment of junior research groups. Therefore young group leaders get the chance to establish them in the scientific area and offer a fresh wind at the institute. Lately important achievements are the clinical testing of new cancer drugs and the first successful use of gene therapy in Europe to treat heritable immune defects in adult patients.

In the year 2012 Bernd Groner retired as director and Winfried Wels took over the directorship on a temporary basis.

Since August 2013 Florian Greten is director of the institue. The aim of the institute's research is focused on tumor biology exclusively, a fact that also is fixed in the new name of the institute "Georg Speyer Haus- Institute for Tumor Biology and Experimental Therapy".


For easy reading we did not mention academic and other titles. The historical facts are mainly taken from the biography “Paul Ehrlich – Forscher für das Leben“ written by Ernst Bäumler.