Vaccines are vital – they prevent disease, save countless lives and cut healthcare costs. But infections like malaria and typhoid still kill millions of people each year. And emerging diseases, such as Ebola and Lassa fever, can cause deadly epidemics. The world urgently needs better, faster ways to develop and use vaccines.

What we want to achieve

Wellcome has long been committed to creating affordable vaccines for people in low- and middle-income countries, and to funding the development and use of vaccines to fight some of the most challenging infectious diseases.  

But more needs to be done to develop new vaccines, and to use existing ones in a better way. 

Through this key area of work we want: 

  • the world to have a new, coordinated and systematic approach to developing and using vaccines during the next epidemic 
  • vaccine design and development to be informed by a better understanding of the people they’re intended to help 
  • industry and policymakers to have the evidence they need to decide which vaccines to develop and use 
  • countries to have the information and expertise to make sure the people who need it most are protected through immunisation.  

Funding in this key area is in addition to the funding we already offer for research across all areas of science. Applications for our existing schemes won’t change and your research won’t stand a greater or lesser chance of being funded if it includes a focus on vaccines. 

A huge opportunity

  • Vaccines already save at least 2 to 3 million lives every year.
  • Another 1.5 million deaths could be prevented each year through better vaccination coverage.
  • Making a safe vaccine typically takes more than 10 years.

The areas we're focusing on

A world prepared for epidemics

The spread of infectious diseases like Ebola and Zika have shown how vulnerable the world is to epidemics. 

Many of the infectious diseases that we know pose the greatest threat could be prevented with vaccines. But the vaccines we need aren’t being developed often enough or quickly enough – developing a vaccine from scratch typically takes more than 10 years.  

We’re a founding partner in CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. CEPI will support development of vaccines against known threats, so they can be used to contain outbreaks before they become emergencies.

Find out how CEPI is working to outsmart epidemics.

We’ve partnered with the UK Department for International Development in the £25 million Joint Initiative on Epidemic Preparedness. We've offered funding to support research into preventing and controlling cholera and the development of social science research protocols

We're also funding WHO to develop Research and Development Blueprint roadmaps for Lassa, Nipah, and Ebola viruses. The roadmaps will serve as strategic plans that describe the research and development steps needed to accelerate the production of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.

Human infection studies 

From a new vaccine to prevent typhoid to understanding natural immunity to malaria, we’ve funded several studies using human infection studies. 

The studies involve vaccinating healthy volunteers and then deliberately exposing them to the infection, in a controlled setting, to test whether the vaccine works. It can give us an indication that a vaccine is safe and effective far more quickly than would be possible through large-scale population trials. Find out more about what human infection studies are and why we need them.

We’re calling for an expansion of these studies to make sure that vaccines are relevant to the people most at risk.  

Our animation explains what human infection studies are and why they're important.

Through our funding we're supporting the establishement of human infection studies in several low- and middle-income countries. 

In addition to funding, we're supporting the development of ethical and regulatory frameworks. Together with other funders of human infection studies, we've created and committed to a set of ethical principles to guide research and encourage a community of best practice. The aim is to speed up vaccine development and foster a supportive environment for future studies.

We’ve also run workshops on:

We supported researchers from low- and middle-income countries to attend the Second Human Challenge Trials Conference to talk about ethics, regulation and their experiences of human infection studies.  

Evidence for decision-making  

Governments, policymakers and international organisations like GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, rely on evidence to prioritise how best to use new and existing vaccines. Sometimes, though, they lack even basic data on how many people are dying from a particular disease.  

We’re working to identify, support, share and apply relevant research so that decisions are based on better information. 

For example, we’ve published a report on the role of vaccines in combatting antimicrobial resistance. We’re also running a funding scheme to support researchers investigating this issue, which gives grants of up to £750,000.  

Strengthened vaccine expertise 

We’re using Wellcome’s strong, longstanding research connections in low- and middle-income countries to increase the expertise of people who can influence and support national and global vaccines agendas. This includes regulators, policymakers, researchers and developers. 

Why do we need vaccines?

Vaccines are one of our most effective health interventions, but are often misunderstood. In our Q&A, we explain what they are, how they work and why they are important.

Read the Q&A: Why do we need vaccines?

Reports and briefings

Impact of vaccination on antibiotic usage

This systematic review provides a comprehensive, up-to-date assessment of the evidence base relating to the effect of vaccines on antibiotic use.

The role of National Immunisation Technical Advisory Groups in evidence-informed decision-making

This report presents the findings of a project initiated by Wellcome and the World Health Organization to determine how national expert groups who give advice on immunisation can be better supported.  

Ethical challenges posed by human infection studies in endemic settings

Despite ethical concerns about research involving vulnerable populations, there are both scientific and ethical reasons to consider conducting more human infection studies in low- and middle-income countries where neglected diseases are often endemic. 

Exploring terminology and naming for controlled human infection models [PDF 415KB]

The current language used to describe controlled human infection models is complex, with many different names being used. This report highlights issues with existing terminology and recommendations for new terminology. The recommended term identified is Human infection studies. 

Vaccines for antimicrobial resistance

This report, commissioned by Wellcome and produced by Boston Consulting Group, looks at the opportunities and challenges around developing vaccines to combat antimicrobial resistance.

Money and microbes: strengthening research capacity to prevent epidemics

This report sets out how to develop the political support, financing and coordination required to build clinical research capacity in low- and middle-income countries, which is key to stemming the spread of epidemics.


Ebola: how a killer disease was stopped in its tracks

Josie Golding explains how an Ebola vaccine helped stop an epidemic in DR Congo – and why doing research during outbreaks makes us better prepared for the next one. 

Why Ebola keeps coming back

While it is impossible to predict exactly where and when the next outbreak will occur, we now know much more about how to prevent a crisis. 

The killer disease with no vaccine

Charlie Weller looks at why Lassa fever is hard to detect and difficult to treat. 

Why are some flu outbreaks so much worse than others?

Flu comes along every winter, but how many people it will infect – and just how poorly they will be – is incredibly difficult to predict.  

Our team

We're working closely with other experts and partner organisations, including vaccine manufacturers, governmental and non-governmental bodies, academic researchers and charities.

Our strategic advisory board provides guidance in this area.

If you have any questions or comments, contact the team:

Explore other key issues

Scientist adds a sample to a micro-tube in a research laboratory (Image © Greg Dale/Getty Images)

Drug-resistant infections: transforming the global response

We want to transform the world's approach towards stemming the rise of infections caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Man and woman harvesting rice in Sapa (Image © Tim Gerard Barker/Getty Images)

Our Planet, Our Health: responding to a changing world

Climate change, urban growth and unsustainable food systems threaten lives. Research evidence and new collaborations could protect and improve human and planetary health.

Request for proposals

Wellcome is looking to increase its understanding of supportive care and supportive care guidelines for epidemic diseases to strengthen epidemic preparedness and response.

We are seeking a supplier who can evaluate the availability, quality, inclusivity and implementation of supportive care and guidelines for a pre-defined list of epidemic diseases.

Closing date for proposals: 25 October 2019

More details