Director’s Update: Looking again at Population Health and Clinical Research at Wellcome

We're reconsidering our activity in population health and clinical research. Two new senior roles have been created to reflect this change.

Since joining the Wellcome Trust I have dedicated a lot of my time to listening to our grantholders, understanding the huge range of research that we support, and developing our 'offer' beyond funding in terms of our policy, communication and public engagement work.

Two areas that I know are of particular interest to our community, and which we have identified for improvement, are population health and clinical research. Both fields have a long and proud history at the Trust– ranging from large longitudinal studies like UK Biobank and ALSPAC, to the very influential National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL), to our longstanding clinical research fellowship schemes.

Today, population health – perhaps because of its success – has become a very broad church of activity. Our portfolio of research includes cohort studies in the UK and overseas, health systems research in Africa and India, surveillance, epidemiology, clinical trials and public health interventions – to name but a few. 

At the same time, it's widely recognised by the medical research community that population health as a field of enquiry is reaching a turning point. Most countries are seeing a changing demographic profile, largely due to an aging population. Patterns of disease are different, with the huge burden of non-communicable diseases like diabetes spreading to lower and middle income countries at the same time as they confront endemic and emerging infectious diseases and increasing antimicrobial resistance. In turn, these changes have an impact on often fragile healthcare systems and increase the demands on families and on social care provision.

Adding yet another layer of complexity is the impact of environment on health. It has been obvious for some time that the health of populations and the planet are inextricably linked. This is an area we started to explore three years ago through our Sustaining Health initiative.

Lastly, it is evident that although public health research is a key part of the puzzle, it alone will not be enough to make a real impact on health. We need to broaden our traditional view of public health to ensure we can address the challenges of the 21st Century and bring a capacity for influencing policy and practice much more to the fore. So, to unite all of this thinking, we are now looking for a Head of Population, Environment and Health who will bring together a new mixed team of research and policy into the Wellcome Trust's Strategy division to work broadly across the whole organisation.

Clinical research is another crucial part of Wellcome portfolio. Alongside the changes outlined to our population, environment and health activity, we are now bringing together clinical research programmes under one team within the Science division, led by a new Head of Clinical Research.

The new role will bring strong leadership to our clinical activity and work closely with medical schools to facilitate cutting-edge research. We are looking for an individual who, similar to my own career, combined clinical medicine and research and will understand the demands of developing a research career alongside medical training, clinical specialisation and a home life.

One of the keys to this will be our new plan for clinical research careers, to be launched later this year, which will significantly increase opportunities for early career clinical researchers aimed to nurture the clinical research leaders of the future.

Our new clinical research lead will also have a huge opportunity to work with others through our large network of collaborators around the world. These include funding partners such as the UK government and funding councils, charities, other global foundations, MSF and other NGOs, and intergovernmental bodies including the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

What the two new roles have in common is a strong priority to foster collaboration both inside and outside the Trust. Both teams will input their expertise into wider conversations about medical ethics, economics, policy and public engagement. The challenge of funding research that has a dramatic impact on improving human health is that often the most promising solution does not fit easily into one discipline. We envisage that applications for research to both these teams will be strongly interdisciplinary and well suited to our Collaborative Awards.

We welcome enquiries and applications to both the positions outlined here.