Discovery research

Our mission is to transform understanding of life, health, and wellbeing through curiosity-driven research across a diverse range of perspectives and contexts.

Researchers work in a laboratory at The Crick Institute in London

The greatest advances in knowledge come from unexpected places, discovered by researchers who have the time and support they need to pursue new lines of investigation. 

But 75% of researchers believe their creativity is being stifled, preventing them from making new breakthroughs.  

We want to change this. 

By funding ambitious, curiosity-driven research across a range of academic disciplines, we can give researchers from different backgrounds the resources they need to take on big questions and overcome barriers to progress.

What do we mean by ‘discovery research’? 

Discovery research is our term for studies, across a breadth of disciplines, that lead to new knowledge and insights into life, health and wellbeing. 

We have a long track record of funding curiosity-based ideas, which have led to important and unexpected advances.  

For example, we:

  • funded a project to discover which genes are active during early development in mice. The work led to the invention of single cell sequencing – now a technology that has made numerous biological questions answerable - and the creating of the Human Cell Atlas
  • supported a study on gender and parenting by the Centre of Family Research in Cambridge that was used to successfully campaign for same-sex marriage in the United States.  

In the search for these kinds of breakthroughs, we support a broad range of projects, from exploring the fundamental processes that underpin biology, to the development of new methodologies, clinical research, and the social, political, and cultural contexts of disease.

Why is discovery research a core focus for us? 

Discovery research is expansive, only limited by the imaginations of researchers, and the resources available to them.   

At a time when many funders are moving away from supporting curiosity-based discovery, and towards projects with a nearer-term impact, we have made a bold commitment to support discovery research as one of the best ways to achieve significant shifts in our understanding of health, life, and wellbeing.

Our independence means we can fund research over a long period of time, even when the link to health impact is not immediately clear. By doing this, we can support researchers to produce a bedrock of new knowledge and research capabilities that can be used to address the health challenges of today – and of tomorrow. 

"By focusing on discovery research, we want to enable researchers to be ambitious, take on difficult problems, and adopt creative and innovative approaches to push the boundaries of our understanding of life, health and wellbeing."

Michael Dunn

Director of Discovery Research


Our work 

We fund transformative research across all fields and disciplines that generates new knowledge with the potential to improve health, life and wellbeing.

We support researchers with the resources, time and freedom to develop their skills and potential and investigate big questions.

Through our Discovery Research programme, we want to change the research ecosystemoptimising environments to provide the culture, tools, technology, methodologies and platforms needed for success.

We want to help break down silos, enabling collaborative and interdisciplinary research.

Research story
Research story

How do autistic people experience maternity care?

7-minute read

Dr Aimee Grant, Senior Lecturer in Public Health at Swansea University, tells us how her experience of autism and maternity care inspired her to research the topic, how it could improve autistic adults’ lives – and make healthcare more accessible.

Research story
Research story

Human Cell Atlas: shaping the future of our health

10-minute read

The Human Cell Atlas aims to map all the cells in the human body. In what ways can these maps shape the future of our health? Learn more from Dr Sarah Teichmann and Prof Muzlifah Haniffa from the Human Cell Atlas Organising Committee.


Unblocking barriers to progress in bioimaging

5-minute read

Bioimaging is vital to the future of health research, but there are barriers to access and progress in the field. Wellcome’s Marion Mercier and Luigi Martino explain how our new funding calls aim to change that.


What funding do we provide? 

We prioritise research that has the potential to build and shape fields of enquiry, or open new ones, whether through a significant shift in understanding, or through the development of accessible new research tools, technologies, methodologies, and enabling platforms.  

Pioneering discoveries are more likely to occur in creative environments between a diverse range of people, so we are working with partners and those we fund to support a thriving, inclusive research culture.

We encourage researchers to apply for our Discovery Research funding awards, which include dedicated schemes for early-career and mid-career researchers.  

We also offer directed funding to tackle 'big questions' that require sizeable focus and make field-building investments in areas where open response activities are not sufficient to make progress.

Current specific discovery research funding opportunities

Discovery Research funding is available across three awards for researchers at various stages of their careers: 

Wellcome Early-Career Awards 

This award supports researchers to establish their independence and trajectory in discovery research. 

Wellcome Career Development Awards 

For mid-career researchers who are ready to lead a substantial, innovative research programme and achieve international standing. 

Wellcome Discovery Awards 

This award supports established researchers and teams.

Bioimaging Technology Development Awards

This award will fund teams of technology developers and users to create novel bioimaging tools that either answer ambitious biological questions or remove barriers to bioimaging in low-resource settings.

We also invite organisations to apply for contract opportunities that support our mission.

How is Wellcome funded? 

Wellcome is an independent charitable foundation. To find out where we get our grant funding from, visit our investments page.

Our team 

  • Michael Dunn

    Director of Discovery Research


  • Christiane Hertz-Fowler

    Head of Directed Activity


  • Morag Foreman

    Head of Discovery Researchers


  • Ben Murton

    Head of Early Career and Career Development Researchers


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