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Medical research in sub-Saharan Africa is of high priority for societies to respond adequately to local health needs. Often enough it remains a challenge to build up capacity in infrastructure and human resources to highest international standards and to sustain this over mid-term to long-term periods due to difficulties in obtaining long-term institutional core funding, attracting highly qualified scientists for medical research and coping with ever changing structural and political environments. The Centre de Recherches Médicales de Lambaréné (CERMEL) serves as model for how to overcome such challenges and to continuously increase its impact on medical care in Central Africa and beyond. Starting off as a research annex to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon, it has since then expanded its activities to academic and regulatory clinical trials for drugs, vaccines and diagnostics in the field of malaria, tuberculosis, and a wide range of poverty related and neglected tropical infectious diseases. Advancing bioethics in medical research in Africa and steadily improving its global networks and infrastructures, CERMEL serves as a reference centre for several international consortia. In close collaboration with national authorities, CERMEL has become one of the main training hubs for medical research in Central Africa. It is hoped that CERMEL and its leitmotiv “to improve medical care for local populations” will serve as an inspiration to other institutions in sub-Saharan Africa to further increase African capacity to advance medicine.