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.

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

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."

A photograph of the person, Michael Dunn.

Michael Dunn

Director of Discovery Research

Wellcome

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. 

Does my project fit the criteria for funding?

For a more detailed description of what projects we will and won’t provide funding for, visit our remit page for Discovery Research.

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 

  • A photograph of the person, Michael Dunn.

    Michael Dunn

    Director of Discovery Research

    Wellcome

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