Wellcome Trust announces multi-million-pound initiative for emergency Ebola research and £40m investment in African research

A multi-million-pound emergency funding package for research that could help to contain the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and future outbreaks of infectious disease has been announced today by the Wellcome Trust, alongside a £40 million long-term investment in African science.

The emergency Ebola initiative, which includes contributions from partner funders, will support research that can swiftly begin to investigate new approaches to treating, preventing and containing the disease, during the current epidemic in West Africa. It will also support research into the ethical challenges of testing experimental medicines during epidemics.

Its goals are to identify clinical and public health interventions, including drugs and vaccines, with the potential to contribute to tackling the present crisis in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, and to inform the way in which future epidemics of Ebola and other infectious diseases are handled.

As well as funding emergency Ebola research, the Wellcome Trust, the world’s second-highest-spending charitable foundation, is making a further long-term commitment to African health through a £40m programme of support for excellence in African research. The investment, which marks a step change in the Trust’s activity in Africa, will support the continent to develop a world-class medical research base so it is better equipped to investigate and tackle its greatest health challenges.

The support includes:

  • Rapid-response funding for humanitarian research into combating the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, under the Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises programme (R2HC) – a £6.5m initiative jointly funded by the Wellcome Trust and the UK Department for International Development, administered by Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA). This will cover research in areas such as epidemiology, clinical management, ethics, diagnosis, disease control and prevention, health systems, and surveillance.
  • A call for research proposals that would evaluate experimental therapies and vaccines for Ebola, focusing on clinical studies that could begin during the current epidemic. The Trust is encouraging rapid applications for funding, which it will evaluate and peer-review urgently so that appropriate projects can start without delay. The Trust will also consider research proposals that would evaluate the ethical challenges of conducting health research during epidemics such as Ebola, on a similar accelerated basis.
  • An initial £40m over five years to launch Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science Africa (DELTAS Africa), which has a long-term vision of developing a new generation of outstanding African health researchers. The initiative will provide extended support for programmes that equip sub-Saharan African researchers to conduct world-leading research that addresses the continent’s health priorities, including emerging and endemic infections, persistent threats such as HIV, TB and malaria, and the growing challenge of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, stroke, cancer and mental health.

The Wellcome Trust is also pleased to announce the establishment of a strategic partnership with the Dangote Foundation, an African-based international philanthropic organisation, to support further Ebola research. We are currently exploring suitable initiatives for the partnership to support.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “The Wellcome Trust is investing today in a package of research that can make a difference to Africa in the short, the medium and the long term. Measures to contain, treat and prevent diseases such as Ebola can be evaluated only in the context of epidemics like this one, which is why support for research is needed immediately. We are grateful to the partners who have helped us to launch these initiatives so quickly.

“The gravity of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa demands an urgent response, and we believe rapid research into humanitarian interventions and therapeutics can have an impact on treatment and containment during the present outbreak. What we learn could also change the way we approach future outbreaks, providing us with tested tools and techniques that were not available to public health authorities this time.

“In the long run, African countries will be best placed to address emerging and endemic infections, established threats such as HIV, TB and malaria, and the growing problem of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer, stroke and mental health, if the continent has an outstanding research base able to respond to Africa’s needs. We believe that the DELTAS Africa programme can support Africa to build better health through world-class research.”

Aliko Dangote, Chairman of the Dangote Foundation, said: “We are pleased to partner with a leading research organisation like the Wellcome Trust in tackling the deadly Ebola virus. The current Ebola crisis underlines the importance for institutions like ours to get involved in supporting medical research.”