Infectious disease

Our vision is a world in which there is a reduced risk and impact of escalating infectious disease  

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

Infectious diseases cause around a quarter of all deaths in the world – and the risk of new infections emerging is rising.  

Our modern lifestyles increase this risk. Climate change, global food chains, and international travel enable diseases to spread across the world faster than ever before.   

But what if we could prevent outbreaks from spreading out of control, or even stop new diseases from surfacing in the first place? 

We want to ensure everyone, everywhere is protected from the threat of infectious disease. 

To do this, we support projects that increase our understanding of the sources of infectious disease and the factors that drive disease escalation. In addition, through global cooperation, local leadership, and work with affected communities, we develop accessible and affordable solutions to control the impact of infections.

What do we want to achieve? 

To have real impact, we need to step-in earlier using more effective interventions. To do this, we want to understand what causes and drives infectious disease to escalate and change the focus to research and development.  

This includes: 

  • developing an improved understanding of disease reservoirs – the environment in which an infectious pathogen lives and reproduces 
  • developing an improved understanding of how new diseases emerge from environmental zoonotic threats – increased risks of pathogens jumping from animals to humans – drug resistance, and geographical spread 
  • developing an improved structure of data and surveillance architecture, so we can better detect and predict escalation 
  • fully supporting Research and Development to enable the creation of affordable new products and tools 
  • improving the way we undertake clinical trials and ensuring a more equitable regulatory environment. 

Scientific research has already led to the creation of vaccines, treatments, tests, and other measures to help contain numerous infectious diseases that cause illness and death around the world. But many treatments remain inaccessible.   

We will achieve our goals through funding, advocacy, partnerships, and working with communities.   

Towards a more equitable research and development ecosystem for infectious disease

We’ve developed a discussion paper outlining what we believe are some of the current challenges that exist within the research and development ecosystem for infectious disease – and the changes that are needed.

But we know we don’t have all the answers. That’s why we are engaging with experts across sectors, disciplines and countries through a listening exercise in summer 2023 to gather feedback on the paper and refine the problems and solutions within it. 

We’ll use this feedback from global stakeholders to help inform the development of a second paper, published in 2023, outlining our vision for a more equitable and sustainable ecosystem of infectious disease research and development.

Why is ‘escalation’ a core focus for us? 

According to the World Health Organization, infectious diseases are estimated to cause around a quarter of all deaths globally. The risk of new pathogens emerging and escalating – such as SARS2-Cov19 and MERS – is increasing.  

By escalation, we mean the changing factors and systems that allow a pathogen to spread out of control. For example, we know that the drug resistance of malaria, as well as the impact climate change has had on insect vectors – carriers of the pathogen – has allowed malaria to escalate. 

If we can identify what causes and drives infectious disease, we can prevent diseases before they escalate. 

That’s also why we’re funding researchers to develop better medicines and interventions that help control escalating infections or drug-resistant variants once they are identified. We’re investing in three general areas: understanding reservoirs, smart surveillance, alongside targeted affordable interventions. 

The Covid-19 pandemic serves as a stark reminder that the impacts of infectious disease are not felt equally, and that existing structures and systems limit global access to solutions. As such, it is imperative that new medicines and early interventions are affordable and freely available to those that need them. 

The cost of not preparing for infectious diseases

Not preparing for infectious disease outbreaks costs far more than putting the systems in place to prevent them from spreading around the globe. The human and economic imperative to invest in preparedness is beyond argument. 

What funding do we provide? 

We fund research that aims to better understand the reservoirs of disease and the factors that drive disease escalation – such as global connectivity, climate change, and the overuse of antibiotics.

We also focus on how to best map and measure these sources and drivers through improved surveillance. 

We’re interested in funding projects that enable us to transform the field of Research and Development to ensure the creation of accessible, affordable, and available products.  

We also award grants to studies that create the evidence we need to persuade key decision makers, such as local and national governments, to make science-informed choices when devising policy around human disease. 

Additionally, we fund discovery research in a broad range of disciplines, including infectious disease.

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

Does my project fit the criteria for funding?

A more detailed description of what we will and won’t fund will be available via our Infectious Disease remit page soon.

Infectious disease funding opportunities

We’re funding research to better understand what causes and drives infectious diseases to escalate and the solutions to control their impact. Explore our current funding call(s):

Strengthening health and disease modelling for public health decision making in Africa

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 work 

Wellcome has always supported science to understand and overcome infectious disease. Explore our previous work via the links below.

Covid-19: supporting global research and development

We want to help the world overcome Covid-19. We’re calling for urgent international action to get lifesaving tests, treatments and vaccines from the laboratory to the front line, so they reach those most in need around the world.

Our team 

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