Wellcome's bold ambitions to improve health through our new strategy

Today, I’m delighted to introduce a new vision and strategy for Wellcome that I hope will have significant positive impacts on the course of human health over the next two decades.

Two researchers at the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford.

Credit: Thomas S.G. Farnetti / Wellcome

Two researchers carry out research at the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford.

Our new vision is to support science to solve the urgent health challenges facing everyone.

Science can change the world in many ways, from making discoveries that change the way we see the world to inspiring solutions for the challenges we face. Wellcome must, therefore, support science in different ways to achieve our mission of improving health.

Our new strategy focuses Wellcome’s strengths on giving researchers the freedom to explore and on using research to solve three worldwide health challenges.

We will fund discovery research exploring life, health and wellbeing across a wide range of disciplines, seeking insights that can inspire future improvements in health. And we will bring together expertise across science, innovation and society to develop equitable solutions to the challenges of mental health, global heating, and infectious diseases.

Principles of equality, diversity and inclusion underpin all parts of our new strategy, as does Wellcome’s responsibility to help build a better research culture. We want the broadest possible range of people to contribute to – and benefit from – science’s potential to change the world. 

Time to change

Although the development of our new vision and strategy started before the Covid-19 pandemic, this year's events have only strengthened my resolve to start implementing our strategy now. 

This is a critical moment in shaping the future of our world. As an independent foundation, Wellcome must take a clear position, must argue for international cooperation to address these urgent health challenges, must support the role of science in solving them. 

To do that fully, both now and in the future, Wellcome must continue to adapt, especially in these rapidly changing times. Our new vision and strategy will guide – and, I hope, help explain to others – the decisions we make. 

I’m incredibly proud of the response from everyone at Wellcome to Covid-19. We are not only funding urgently needed research into the disease, but also using Wellcome’s independence and expertise to bring together partners across society in support of science and innovation. 

We’ve taken the initiative in multinational, cross-sectoral alliances to raise billions of dollars for research – more than Wellcome alone could ever afford – and coordinate the global search for scientific solutions to the crisis. 

This is support for science that goes beyond funding, beyond what Wellcome could achieve in the past. It’s support that challenges and enables science to have real impact in the world. 

It’s an approach that has evolved through Wellcome’s work over the past five or six years, as we’ve taken on a more active role in addition to the grant funding we offer. I’m determined to put Wellcome in an even better position to take this approach across all of our work. 

We expect our overall charitable spending to continue broadly in line with recent years – how we choose to spend it will evolve with our strategy, our goals and the partnerships we form. Even so, we can’t take on everything. 

By focusing our work through our new strategy, we will get the most from Wellcome’s strengths as a charitable foundation, do more of the things that only we can do, and more effectively fulfil our responsibility to society to use our independence for public benefit.

Wellcome can give researchers the freedom to follow their curiosity wherever it takes them, and we can lead activities that allow society to get the best from science in the search for better health. Doing both means each approach can inform and inspire the other, leading to more discoveries, more tools and insights, a richer understanding of the world, and better solutions to the urgent health challenges we all face.

Urgent challenges

The health challenges we’ve chosen affect every part of the globe, every age group. But they don’t affect every community equally, and relatively little has been done to put research at the heart of the global response to them – as shown by our review of how Wellcome funds science, also published today. 

We want to address these gaps and inequalities. Wellcome’s funding in these three programmes will be global in ambition, perspective and eligibility. 

  • Infectious diseases threaten all our lives. Covid-19 has killed at least a million people across the world in six months, and many more are living with long-term health effects from the infection. As we’re doing today with Covid-19, as we did with Ebola, Wellcome will focus on escalating infectious diseases, including the rise of drug-resistant infections. We’ll target research and resources to inform local, national and international actions needed to prevent, prepare for, and respond to these threats.  
  • Global heating will put the lives of millions of people at risk as lethal heatwaves increase, with at least 250,000 more deaths a year between 2030 and 2050 from climate change. We want to bolster research into the harmful effects of global heating on health, working in partnerships with the communities most affected. Together, we will use research to find and implement the best solutions. 
  • Mental health research is underperforming. Fewer than 1 in 5 people with common mental health problems like depression get proper treatment – that’s in high-income countries; the numbers are much lower in low- and middle-income countries. We want to pull disparate scientific and clinical fields together because a united research effort will accelerate the development of better treatments. People with lived experience of mental health problems and treatments are central to this work. 

Wellcome cannot achieve these goals alone – they’re bigger than any single organisation, or any single nation for that matter. We will listen to the voices of people and communities disproportionately affected by these health challenges, and work together to develop solutions based on research. We will support and draw on the expertise of researchers from these communities and working with these communities. 

We will strengthen our partnerships with governments, businesses, charities and others around the world, those who have reach, roles and expertise that we do not have on our own. That includes those who receive funding from Wellcome, as well as those we don’t fund, who share our values and aims. 

Funding discovery

Wellcome has supported UK science for many decades. I’m proud of that record, and I hope we remain a significant funder of UK science, as it provides a base of knowledge and learning that will help us achieve our goals, particularly in discovery research. 

How we fund discovery research must also have a positive impact on research culture. I want our focus on discovery to allow researchers to pursue the big questions, the things they find most fascinating. I want Wellcome to become a more inclusive funder, and to promote inclusive research as the way to get the best results from science. I want careers in research to be more attractive to people, more satisfying to work in – more fun, too. 

So we’re going to put more support behind researchers in the earlier stages of their career and those at the cusp of establishing their independence. These are the future leaders of research teams who will help us to solve problems in ways we can’t yet imagine. We’ll also be open to ideas from established researchers and teams which support our mission to improve health. 

As we replace our many existing funding schemes with a simplified set of schemes in the coming year, there will be many opportunities to work with us. We’re less concerned with what field of research you’re in – it’s going to be more about the boldness of your idea, the potential to make real discoveries, the potential to change the way the world thinks about health and how to improve it.  

Today marks a significant moment for Wellcome. Our new vision and strategy lay the foundations for Wellcome’s work for the next 25 years. I hope you will join us as we embark on our most ambitious journey yet.