Wellcome Trust unveils new funding framework

We today announce an evolution of the Wellcome Trust funding framework that will enhance our ability to support excellent research, both in the UK and worldwide.

Following extensive consultation with the Wellcome Trust community, we are making several improvements to the schemes we offer, including a new funding mechanism for collaborative research by teams, and the introduction of seed grants to support researchers who want to develop original and innovative ideas.

We are also taking a fresh approach to funding work of strategic importance to our mission, in areas that we will identify and develop in consultation with the researchers we support and the wider community. This will normally involve invited applications, though we are encouraging researchers with ideas that might fit our strategic priorities to discuss with us how these might best develop.

These changes are taking place at a time when the Wellcome Trust’s overall spend is growing. We want to make sure that as we increase our funding, the right opportunities are available for the many different kinds of researchers and research teams who can help us to make a difference to health.

The most significant changes to our funding framework are:

  • A new scheme for collaborative research, to support groups of researchers to pursue key questions. This scheme is to enable team projects, led by multiple researchers, which can only succeed through working together.
  • A new scheme for seed funding to support original and innovative ideas, with a view to enabling researchers to move towards a larger research application.
  • Our New Investigator and Senior Investigator Award schemes are merging into a single Investigator Award scheme. All candidates will be considered according to their career stage and experience to date.
  • Increased opportunities for research leaders of the future through our established schemes of Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowships and Sir Henry Dale Fellowships.
  • New schemes to encourage the development of portfolios of translational research projects and sustained excellence in public engagement.

Across our funding framework we are introducing a clearer distinction between strategic funding and responsive funding. Responsive funding, which represents the majority, is being divided into five categories that run across our Science, Innovations, Medical Humanities, Society and Ethics, and Engaging Science programmes.

The five categories of our responsive funding are:

People: We believe that breakthroughs emerge when talented researchers are given the resources and freedom they need to pursue their goals. We will continue to offer personal support to researchers through schemes such as Investigator Awards and our range of fellowships.

Seeds: Modest sums can often make a big difference. We are therefore launching a new category of Seed Awards to support the development of new ideas into bigger projects.

Teams: Collaboration is a key component of a vibrant research environment, and often drives the very best work. It promotes the development of new ideas and can bring different disciplines together to speed the pace of discovery. We are therefore announcing a new category of funding for collaborative research, through Collaborative Awards and Portfolio Awards.

Places: We want to ensure that researchers can work and train in world-class environments and we will continue to provide long-term support for centres of excellence in the UK and in low- and middle-income countries.

Resources: Research excellence often relies on specialist equipment, physical facilities or data resources such as longitudinal studies. We remain committed to supporting these.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “From the sequencing of the human genome to the development of front-line drugs against malaria, Wellcome Trust funding has helped to advance some of the great achievements of our time. These achievements were made by the community we support, and as their routes to excellence evolve, our approaches to backing that excellence must change too.

“Sometimes, the Trust’s best route to advancing health will be to identify critical questions, and then to invite applications from those who are best equipped to answer them. That is why we are creating a clearer road map for inviting applications for strategic awards that advance our biggest priorities. We understand, though, that our community will more often ask better questions that we can, which is why responsive funding will continue to make up the majority of our portfolio, with refined schemes that are better tuned to those who ask for our support.

“Listening to our community, and my own experience, confirms that time and time again research led by teams achieves results beyond anything that could be done by a single individual – whether that be in combating the Ebola virus, tackling drug resistance, or assessing sexual attitudes and lifestyles. The new Collaborative Awards are designed to allow multiple researchers to come together, ideally from different disciplines, to work towards solutions which are more than the sum of their parts.

“Our Seed Awards are aimed at researchers who have an innovative idea that they need a smaller amount of funding for in order to develop it into something more robust. By nurturing this riskier stage of the research process the Wellcome Trust can encourage more of the best ideas to flourish and develop into larger projects that can really make a difference.

“Across our funding framework we want to make sure the right scheme is available whatever your idea or your career stage. It’s particularly important to support young researchers and we are creating more opportunities for them to develop their careers through our fellowship schemes.”

The refreshed funding framework for Seed Awards and Investigator Awards begins with effect from 18 November. Applications for Collaborative Awards will be invited in the new year. Existing schemes, including Sir Henry Wellcome and Sir Henry Dale Fellowships, will follow their existing funding schedule.

This is not the end of the process. We are still looking at how to improve the funding we offer to researchers on our clinical pathway and to our Wellcome Trust Centres.