The Beginning and The Early Era

Blog Post Date: Tuesday 20 July 2021

The district councilors were peeved. The Bakteriologisches Institut Halle, responsible for tackling animal diseases, had increased its fees. However, Anhalt was dependent on its expertise, as at this time, shortly after the first world war, animal diseases were rampant. In response, the district councilors acted on the advice of the state veterinarian Dr. Friedrich Richter and founded the Bakteriologisches Institut der Anhaltischen Kreise (Bacteriological Institute of the Anhalt county) on 1 July 1921. They could not have imagined what would evolve from this: over the course of the next 100 years IDT Biologika emerged, a globally active pharmaceuticals manufacturer and the largest employer in Dessau-Roßlau, with a workforce of 1,600.

  • Dr. med. vet. Karl Ludwig Wolters

    The beginnings were modest. When the institute moved into the building on Neumarkt 5 (now Johannisstraße) in Dessau it numbered just three employees: a veterinarian, a laboratory technician, an assistant. Although it was a state establishment, the institute was required to largely fund itself. From a present-day viewpoint, the institute was therefore a start-up concept. Initially, the focus of the Bakteriologisches Institut was on one specific disease: TB – tuberculosis. An animal research establishment responsible for TB? Not without logic. TB is not only dangerous for humans, but also animals, and cattle in particular.

    First institute building at Neumarkt 5 in Dessau (today Johannisstraße, around 1921)

Since the middle of the 19th century Dessau had evolved from a royal seat to a vibrant industrial metropolis. For example, the Deutsche Continental Gasgesellschaft founded in 1855 had developed into a group operating throughout Germany. Chemical factories sprang up, engineering companies, major breweries. And the subsequent aviation pioneer Hugo Junkers had laid the foundations for his first company here. The dynamism of the city also permeated the Bakteriologisches Institut. In 1924 it was awarded the status of a state veterinary inspection office – from now on it was involved with animal diseases such as anthrax, swine fever or avian flu. The year before the state veterinarian Dr. Karl Ludwig Wolters had taken over leadership of the institute, which he was to mold over the course of the coming decades.

Under Wolters the production of vaccines and serum began – on a laboratory scale. In 1923 240 milliliters of a serum against calf diarrhea was produced, enough for just 16 animals. This was joined by two and a half liters of a brucellosis vaccine and two liters of bacteria culture for tackling rats and mice – more was not possible in the initial premises. In April 1924 the institute moved to a new building to the west of the main railway station. There, on almost a greenfield site, a new urban district arose. In September 1925 the foundation stone for the Bauhaus Dessau was laid, just a few hundred meters distant. And although there were no points of contact between the two establishments, until the Nazis forced the closure of the Bauhaus Dessau had a research and university campus.

On April 21, 1925, the Bacteriological Institute of the Anhaltian Administrative Area Dessau
purchased a newly built property in Herzogin-Marie-Platz in the west of the city.

The regular production of serum took place outside of the city limits, however. The Bakteriologisches Institut acquired the Gestüt Luisium, a stud farm, and purchased five horses. In what is now a standard procedure these were infected with pathogens against which the horses themselves were immune and formed antibodies. Blood was drawn from the animals at regular intervals, from which serum was obtained.

The on-site production of vaccines proved to be increasingly important. Local veterinarians sounded the alarm after an outbreak of Erysipelas in pigs, as no serum was available on the market. They urged its manufacture in Dessau itself. This was a welcome development for the Bakteriologisches Institut. It was already earning money with investigation and analysis work, including forensic medicine assessments. However, this was not enough to pay off the loan for the new building – after all, the institute received no state funding. The serum from the Luisium not only earned money for this, it was also intended to largely finance the research required to manufacture vaccines in large quantities and in a reliable quality. Nowhere else in Germany was there such a facility at state level that combined so many tasks, with this reflected in the renaming in 1927 as Hygienisches Institut Anhalt-Dessau (Hygienic Institute of Anhalt-Dessau) . For legal reasons, serum production at the Luisium was transformed into Serum-Institut GmbH Dessau.

The Hygienic Institute Anhalt in Dessau with its extensions (ASID) in 1938.

In 1933 the institute became a foundation before being placed directly under the responsibility of the Anhalt State Minister Alfred Freyberg. Wolters remained managing director. Where previously the human medicine activities of the institute were limited to examinations, this changed in 1935. With the key involvement of medical-technical assistant Johanna Dehmel, a vaccine was developed against diphtheria in humans, which was to bring her an honorary doctorate from the Humboldt University in Berlin in 1960. Vaccines against cholera and whooping cough followed.

Although the administration of what was now the Anhaltisches Serum-Institut GmbH (ASID, Serum Institute of Anhalt) was moved to Berlin in 1939, Dessau remained a center of research and production. The main building was extended and a domain acquired in Tornau, now part of Dessau-Roßlau, in which hundreds of serum animals could be kept. Wartime production was initiated in 1940. More and more vaccines were ordered to combat the outbreaks of typhus and other diseases. Whilst it was still possible to develop new human vaccines in Dessau, the war drew ever closer. On 7 March 1945 the institute building in Dessau was largely destroyed in an Anglo-American air raid, along with 85 percent of the city center. At the end of May, the US military government permitted ASID to recommence its activities. This was to prove challenging.