Press release

Wellcome priorities for 2023

Wellcome directors share their priorities and predictions for 2023 across discovery research, mental health, climate and health, infectious diseases and global collaboration. 

Michael Dunn, Director of Discovery Research

“This year, we saw plenty of exciting advances towards improving our understanding of human health. We were delighted that Svante Pääbo was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his ground-breaking work on the study of ancient DNA. As DNA sequencing technologies advance, we can now generate genomes from ancient samples, and all of life on Earth. Understanding how genetic variation shapes health and disease requires a really broad view of the vast diversity of life on Earth. For example, can we transform our understanding of ageing from studying bats which live extraordinary long lives and have an ability to resist cancer? 

“Two huge, ambitious projects – Darwin Tree of Life led by the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the Earth BioGenome Project – are already teaching us more about how our environment and health are linked, along with the impact of climate change. Unravelling the entire sequence of life on Earth now truly feels like something in our grasp. 

“In 2023 we will see the full release of the whole genome sequencing data covering the whole UK Biobank cohort. UK Biobank continues to be the world-leading resource linking many health conditions to individual genetics. The release of this data will be a transformational moment for the worldwide research community enabling new field-opening discoveries with significant positive impact on human health and wellbeing. We will also continue to see a major push for world-class genomic research across Africa. We still have so much to discover about human genetics - it’s exciting to witness research from across the continent making invaluable contributions to our understanding of human health.” 

Unlocking researchers’ potential: our vision for Discovery Research

Miranda Wolpert, Director of Mental Health

“There is a lot to celebrate in mental health as we enter 2023. For example, we have seen the emergence of a breakthrough treatment for schizophrenia, which could change the lives of millions of people around the world. This is the first potential new pharmacological approach for treating schizophrenia in over 50 years.  
“Schizophrenia is commonly treated with antipsychotics, but the existing options do not work for everyone. Karuna Therapeutics Inc, supported through initial trials by Wellcome, has developed a new combination drug called KarXT. This significantly reduces symptoms of schizophrenia such as delusions and hallucinations, as well as lack of motivation and memory loss. KarXT also has fewer side effects and may be suitable for those for whom other drugs do not work. Karuna aims to file a new drug application with the Food and Drug Administration in mid-2023.This shows how investing in mental health research can translate into treatments which transform people’s lives.  
“I’m also buoyed by early signs that the mental health field is flourishing and coming together. This is shown in the way that some mental health scientists are starting to bring Lived Experience expertise into all stages of their research. It is also reflected in the launch of two new journals from major scientific publishers: Nature Mental Health (Springer Nature) and Mental Health Science (Wiley).” 
A world where no one is held back: our vision for Mental Health

Gordon Dougan, Director of Infectious Disease

“In 2022 we saw more examples of infectious diseases escalating in new and unexpected ways - from the rapid spread of mpox globally and polio being detected in New York and London for the first time in decades, to an alarming rise in cholera outbreaks and the re-emergence of Ebola in Uganda. All against the backdrop of ongoing, but no less devastating, chronic epidemics such as TB, HIV & malaria.  

“While these outbreaks did not escalate on the scale of Covid-19 – which we must not forget is still with us - they are important reminders of our shared global vulnerabilities and the pressing need for global collaboration.  

“Importantly, encouraging scientific progress is being made, offering hope to many. This year, a new dengue vaccine has been approved for use in Indonesia, next year two malaria vaccines are expected to finish Phase 3 clinical trials, and mRNA vaccine research continues to show great promise. Biovac is building capacity to manufacture an oral cholera vaccine in South Africa - a significant step forward for improving vaccine production and access on the continent. 

“This year also saw the launch of the new Pandemic Fund, which has the potential to be one of the most meaningful reforms in global preparedness. 

“2023 will be a crucial year for the battle against infectious disease, with talks about a new Pandemic Accord continuing and pandemic preparedness, universal health coverage and TB all high on the UN General Assembly agenda. Hopefully this is a sign that governments are starting to take this threat seriously, bringing us one step closer to a world in which we can stop outbreaks from escalating and save more lives.” 

From pandemics to prevention: our vision for Infectious Disease

Alan Dangour, Director of Climate & Health

“It’s really exciting to see health begin to emerge as a priority topic within climate change debates. Climate change related health impacts are vast – ranging from rising numbers of infectious diseases, to heat related impacts on maternal health and so much more. These issues are now higher on the agendas of governments and decision makers, with climate change being included as a major determinant of health in the EU’s Global Health Strategy just last month.  

“I’m also energised by the amount that is already being done.  Many governments around the world are taking important steps towards low carbon energy and innovation and increased public understanding and demand will only help to continue this trajectory. 

“This is a real shift. I think the weather this year has really brought home to people the real impacts, including health impacts, of climate change. For many it is no longer about abstract quantities of carbon or points on a temperature scale – it is about people’s lives. But to really be able to effect change, we need more and better evidence – and this is something Wellcome is determined to change.” 

Generating evidence and solutions: our vision for Climate and Health

Beth Thompson, interim Director of Strategy

“The pandemic brought science into our lives and to the desks of politicians on a daily basis. The 2020 Wellcome Global Monitor showed rising trust in scientists. And there have been more signs this year that the gaps between science, society and politics may be narrowing. 
“My highlight of 2022 was a conference organised by GESDA (Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator), a new organisation bringing science and diplomacy together to support global solutions to the world’s big problems. I was blown away by the enthusiasm from scientists, business leaders and diplomats to break through traditional silos. I’m excited to see how this develops, because we need collaboration more than ever.  
“To drive new discoveries and solve the biggest health challenges of our time we need to bring together a broad range of people from different disciplines and backgrounds. We need governments, academia, industry and civil society to work together. This means shifting mindsets, finding shared language, and creating space for - and comfort with - debate. Most importantly, the communities burdened by these urgent global health challenges have to be at the heart of this, if we’re to create more sustainable and equitable solutions. 
“Despite a turbulent year for geopolitics, there have been remarkable pockets of collaboration. Highlights include a new Pandemic Fund receiving pledges from China & the US, and a landmark agreement on loss and damage at COP27. There is a real sense of momentum. Given the progress this year, we can all be hopeful for the progress we can make towards better health around the world in 2023.”