Director’s Update: Simple, flexible funding
Opinion / Published: 18 November 2014
At our best, funders of medical research provide support that brings the right people together in the right places with the right resources, and enables them to make discoveries and develop inventions that will improve human and animal health. We've seen this in the last few months as the research community has come together in response to the outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa.
It's too soon to claim that we have got to grips with the virus. People are still dying, communities are devastated and in many areas the epidemic continues to expand. But I am extremely proud that the Wellcome Trust and others have been able to join together to catalyse and fund research that will identify and deliver effective therapies, vaccines, communication strategies and classic public health measures. Partnership, flexibility and collaboration have been central to our response – whether it's supporting clinical trials or scrutinising the ethics of how research is done in an epidemic, the work we've funded has required a huge amount of teamwork between scientists and funders alike.
We face many different kinds of health challenge but they all share the need for a diverse range of activities to understand and respond to them. However, that doesn't mean we funders have to devise a new scheme for every possible permutation of person, discipline, location, career stage, scale and duration of project. Rather, it requires a simple, flexible framework that everyone can easily engage with, and that allows us to respond quickly, creatively and confidently without unnecessary process.
This is an issue that chimes with me from when I was on the other side of the funding relationship. It is also something I have heard a lot about this past year from listening to people we fund and people we don't, in the UK and around the world, as well as from colleagues within the Trust. So I want the Trust's funding framework to be clear and simple, in order that people can come to us with an idea and quickly understand what we can offer and what we will expect.
For all the areas that we fund – science, innovations, medical humanities, society and ethics, and public engagement – we now have five broad categories of response mode funding. These categories are people, seeds, teams, places and resources. They are consistent across the Trust, but remain flexible enough to encompass everything from clinical studies in stroke to a science-inspired film by Björk, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute to Pathfinder awards for early-stage applied research in biotech, from individual fellowships in cell biology or the history of medicine or screenwriting to a multinational collaboration on urbanisation and health.
This is what science boils down to: people. Talented people with curiosity, ideas and ambition wanting to ask questions and find answers. We could probably have called all our categories 'People' but as it is, this refers specifically to personal awards like our Fellowships and Investigator Awards.
A new kind of funding to support the generation of new ideas. These are small awards for developing original, innovative and risky ideas or for generating preliminary data or resources towards a larger research application.
Another new kind of funding that recognises the key importance of collaboration in research and public engagement, bringing together people from within or across disciplines to inspire new ideas and new ways of thinking.
Long-term support in the UK and in low- and middle-income countries for centres of excellence in research, innovation or engaging the public with science.
Funding for shared equipment, facilities and research resources, including support for longitudinal studies.
In addition to this framework, strategic funding is available in areas of particular importance to us. It has not always been clear to everyone else what these areas are, however, so to improve transparency, our strategic areas will be identified and developed in dialogue with our researchers and the wider community.
This is how the Trust works at its best. We want to engage in an ongoing discussion about opportunities and demands for research and public engagement. We have big ambitions, but the only way we can achieve them is in partnership with creative, innovative and ambitious people. So I really hope that our refreshed, simple and clear framework will encourage you to look at the website, identify opportunities relevant to you, come and talk with us, and consider applying for funding.
Find out more about our updated grant schemes in this press release. If you are working in biomedical science and public health, we are hosting a webinar to outline the key changes for our science portfolio on 12th December at 11.00am (GMT).