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Wellcome’s approach to research

As we announce our first cohort of Discovery Research grantees under our new award scheme, covering a broad range of topics, disciplines and places, I thought I’d take this opportunity to set out how Wellcome’s strategy builds on what we’ve done before, what has changed, what remain as key priorities, and how we will engage with researchers.

Since 1936, Wellcome has supported basic research into the fundamental biology of life and the origins and contexts of disease, funding a broad range of researchers from cell biology to medical humanities with a diverse portfolio of projects.

In recent years we have additionally funded in specific targeted areas to advance translational activity and address key global health challenges. And we have worked throughout the research ecosystem, including with policy makers and other funders to support science’s role in society.  

Funding a mix of curiosity-driven research and challenge-led activity remains as the heart of what we do to create real impact.

Discovery Research 

Our open-mode funding continues to be open to research in any discipline, but through a simplified set of funding schemes, with just three open mode funding schemes by career stage. Larger and longer grants are available, designed to encourage a broad range of applications, increased diversity of candidates, and bold projects. Although applications to these schemes must still be led researchers in the UK or lower- and middle-income countries, we are putting in place means to facilitate international collaboration in these awards. 

These schemes will remain the major engine of our funding, with more money available than in previous years.

Researchers work in a laboratory at The Crick Institute in London

Discovery research

Discovery research leads to new insights into our life, health and wellbeing. Researchers from any background have the freedom and flexibility to ask bold and creative questions that will improve our health. 

Challenge-led funding 

The three health challenge programmes that complement this ongoing discovery research funding were chosen, after much consideration, as each presents a global challenge to human health which could maximally benefit from Wellcome’s strengths. We will support a continuum of work from discovery to translation, implementation to uptake, to benefit those most in need. Each of these programmes will fund research and other activities according to defined goals and outcomes. 

Working on these particular challenges builds on Wellcome’s long history in neuroscience and mental health research, immunology, epidemiology and population health, as well as a recent programme of research into our changing environment and health. This strategy means we can focus on using a range of approaches to remove specific bottlenecks in research and uptake, to enable transformative advances in these areas in support of human health. We will fund through directed funding, including specific targeted calls which will generally be open to global applicants. 

Testing soil health in Western Kenya

Climate and health

Our vision is a world in which climate change does not harm health in the communities it affects most.

Woman takes part in the World Mosquito Programme in the South Pacific

Infectious disease

Our vision is a world in which escalating infectious diseases are under control in the communities most affected. 

A woman wearing a swimming cap swims in cold water with her eyes closed

Mental health

Our vision is a world in which no one is held back by mental health problems.

What's new? 

Some activities have changed focus, and so has our funding approach. For example, while our grants can still include support for public engagement activities, Wellcome will now directly fund public engagement only when it is relevant to achieving the goals in our strategy. Similarly, while we continue to fund PhD students through our grants or where there is particular need in a given field, we will no longer support funding for new biomedical PhD programmes. 

We are an independent foundation, financially and politically, but we take inspiration from the research community’s own work and ideas when deciding where to invest our resources and to generate the most impact on science and health. We rely on the research community to present exciting opportunities for breakthrough when they apply for funds, and we welcome proposals with unusual approaches.

If you have ideas to advance our strategy, we are interested in hearing from you. Look at the Discovery Research and Health Challenges pages for information about how you can get involved.

Over the coming year, you will see our new approach take life through funding calls and programmes. There will be opportunities for researchers based in the UK, in lower- and middle-income countries, and in other parts of the world to join our community of researchers. We are excited to work with new and familiar communities of researchers in all fields who share our commitment to working to improve human health through science.

  • A photograph of the person, Cheryl Moore.

    Cheryl Moore

    Director, Research Programmes

    Wellcome

    Cheryl Moore is Director of Research Programmes at Wellcome, leading a broad interlinked portfolio that focuses on discovery research and three urgent health challenges: mental health, infectious disease and climate and health. She is a strategic leader who is passionate about the role of science in improving human health.

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