‘Simpler’ Wellcome grants aim to ‘give researchers more freedom’

Biomedical research charity to focus efforts on infectious diseases, mental health and global heating

October 20, 2020
Keys under mat
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The Wellcome Trust is to simplify its funding schemes in a bid to “encourage a broader range of applications” and “give researchers more freedom, time and resource to pursue their ideas”.

The shift was revealed as the trust, one the world’s largest biomedical research charities, announced that it would focus more of its efforts on seeking solutions to three global challenges: infectious diseases, mental health and global heating.

The new strategy was confirmed following a review launched in late 2018 which sought to identify the charity’s direction for the next 10 to 15 years.

Building a more positive research culture will be a key plank of the strategy, and the “new, simplified set of funding schemes” is a key part of that. They will open for applications in summer 2021, replacing existing schemes, which will wind down over the course of 2021.

There will be three discovery research schemes: one for early career researchers “who want to develop their research capabilities, carry out innovative research, advance understanding in their field, and build links with other researchers”; one for mid-career researchers “who want to develop their independence and leadership skills, run their own research programme or project, and make a key contribution to their field”; and one for “established researchers and teams who want to pursue bold and innovative research or tool and technology development”.

The new schemes will all be open to applicants from any discipline, including the humanities and social sciences, as long as the research is related to health. And they will be open to applicants from the UK, the Republic of Ireland and low- and middle-income countries, as well as applicants from the rest of the world if they are applying as part of a team.

Full details of criteria and eligibility for the programmes will be published in early 2021.

Wellcome said that the new approach would “put more support behind researchers in the earlier stages of their career and those establishing their independence”.

Sir Jim Smith, Wellcome’s director of science, who led the review, said that improving research culture was “embedded” in the new strategy.

“We want science to be a career open to everyone. By giving researchers the freedom to ask the most exciting questions, supported with career development and good leadership, everyone should benefit from Wellcome-funded research,” Sir Jim said.

Wellcome said that it would continue to support blue-sky research across a range of disciplines, but that it would also focus on its three new grand challenges. Its overall charitable spend is expected to stay similar to now (£1.1 billion in 2018-19) but the exact breakdown is yet to be determined.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome’s director, said that the charity had “a responsibility to ensure our funding makes the biggest possible impact in the areas that will benefit most”.

“Wellcome can give researchers the freedom to follow their curiosity wherever it takes them, and we can lead activities that allow society to get the best from science in the search for better health with these strategic areas of focus,” Sir Jeremy said.

“Doing both means each approach can inform and inspire the other, leading to more discoveries, more tools and insights, a richer understanding of the world and better solutions to the urgent health challenges we all face.”


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