We are an independent global charitable foundation, dedicated to improving health.

Since 1936, our support has helped to save and improve millions of lives around the world through science, research, evidence and engagement with society.

Here, we share with you our strategic approach.

Our philosophy

Good health makes life better. We want to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive.

Science and research expand knowledge by testing and investigating ideas. This new understanding can be applied to health and change medicine, behaviour and society.

That’s why we support thousands of curious, passionate people all over the world to explore great ideas, at every step of the way from discovery to impact.

Together, we can do more. We can drive reform to ensure that ideas can reach their full potential. And we can give focused, intensive support when we see real opportunities to transform lives.

As an independent charitable foundation, we’re willing to take risks. We combine the ability to act swiftly with long-term ambition.

That’s how we make life better.

Our framework

How we help great ideas to thrive

This framework sets out how we plan to improve health, through three complementary approaches across science, research, and engagement with society:


Advancing ideas
We support great ideas and inspired thinking.


Seizing opportunities
We bring ideas together to make a difference.


Driving reform
We change ways of working so more ideas can flourish.

The framework builds on our 2010 Strategic Plan and has no fixed time-frame. It includes initial priority themes; more will follow.

The success of our investments, which we manage ourselves and which fund all the work we do, means we intend to spend up to £5 billion over the five years to 2020.

Our new framework allows us to adapt as new ideas and challenges arise, drawing on insights from 80 years of achievement and our broad network of experts.

It also allows us to respond quickly in a crisis, as we did to support new vaccines for Ebola.

We achieve more than would be possible on our own by working with academia, philanthropy, business, governments and civil society.

We remain true to the vision and values of our founder, Sir Henry Wellcome, a medical entrepreneur, collector and philanthropist.


Advancing ideas

We support great ideas and inspired thinking.

Better health needs great new ideas. The richest sources of these ideas are the people who dedicate themselves to discovery, creativity and innovation. We are always open to proposals and ready to respond to the best.

Supporting ideas has always been central to our approach, and it will always account for the majority of our funding. We also stimulate ideas and pursue many of our own.

The research we support continues to address fundamental health challenges of our time, across discovery science, medical innovation, and the humanities and social sciences.

Areas of strength

We will back great ideas in any field of research related to health, while reinforcing these areas where we already see exciting developments with lasting potential.

Genomics, genetics and epigenetics

Understanding the information of life and its significance for health, through investments such as Wellcome Genome Campus.

Infectious disease and immunobiology

Investigating endemic and epidemic infections, including malaria and HIV, as well as the role of the immune response in health and in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Development and ageing

Examining how bodies and cells function, develop and age, and mechanisms of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, obesity and stroke.

Neuroscience and mental health

Understanding the brain, mind and nervous system with techniques such as imaging and optogenetics, and investigating conditions such as dementia, depression and schizophrenia.

Population, environment and health

Observing and analysing influences on health and disease and evaluating interventions in populations over time, using resources such as UK Biobank.

Cultural and social contexts of health

Understanding perceptions and practices of science, health and wellbeing, including ethics and personal experiences of health.

Public engagement

Inspiring people to explore science, health and the human condition, through Wellcome Collection and other initiatives.

We give grants to people and teams, and for places and resources, as well as providing seed funding, through our recently updated set of funding schemes.

We support researchers at the start of a career and at every stage that follows, as well as creative people, teachers and others who put health and science at the heart of everyday conversation.

We develop leaders and advocate policy change. And we can adapt our support quickly and flexibly, to meet fresh needs at times of unexpected opportunity or challenge.

Great ideas we’ve supported

We’ve backed many great ideas over our 80-year history. Here, we highlight ten of them and how they’ve improved health.

  • Sequencing the entire human genome, and keeping the results public, fuelled genetic discoveries that underpin modern biology.
  • Researching how mitochondria work led to IVF techniques for preventing disease, which UK law now permits after we promoted change.
  • Solving problems with blood testing in hot, humid and dusty conditions led to an affordable, portable machine to diagnose HIV quickly in newborns in Africa.
  • Investigating the effectiveness of artemisinin combination therapies proved the worth of frontline drugs for malaria that save millions of lives.
  • Supporting the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles has provided substantial evidence shaping public health policies.
  • Digitising the collections in the Wellcome Library means researchers across the world can access rich, varied historical and contemporary medical resources.
  • Creating an international consortium to identify the structures of hundreds of proteins has discovered leads for new medicines.
  • Appreciating the importance of inspiring science lessons led to a UK-wide initiative giving thousands of teachers access to better training.
  • Adapting cognitive behavioural therapy to eating disorders led to the first psychological treatment to be recommended for the UK health service.
  • Joining five other funders and universities gave long-term support and scientific leadership to the Francis Crick Institute, the largest biomedical research institute in Europe.

Seizing opportunities

We bring ideas together to make a big difference.

We’ve long supported people with great ideas, and we always will. Beyond that, we identify times when our concerted intervention can accelerate progress towards better health.

We do this by providing focused, intensive support that creates a step change over five to ten years.

Sometimes, we see potential in connecting people we support. At other times, we will stimulate a new field of endeavour, or invest in new technology that drives discovery.

In each case, we identify a critical need and set ambitious goals. We connect experts from different research disciplines, build partnerships, and lead advocacy, policy development, communications and public engagement.

The challenges we choose to pursue are often tough and complex. Not every effort will succeed. But those that do will transform lives.

With our track record in discovery science and innovation, we are well placed to focus on two aspects of the fight against infectious disease. We will develop our approach to these during 2016.

  • Drug-resistant infections: Growing resistance to antibiotics and other drugs threatens many of the benefits of modern medicine. We will explore how best to use and protect the treatments we have and to encourage the development of new ones.
  • Vaccination: Too many lives are still lost to diseases which vaccines could prevent, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. We will explore how best to stimulate research, technology development and policy to address this critical unmet need.

We have also identified two opportunities to stimulate new approaches to research:

  • Our Planet, Our Health: Human health is intimately linked to the environment in which we live. We will build understanding of how global food systems and urbanisation connect to health, improving the evidence base for public policy.
  • Scientific leadership: The burden of disease is greatest in parts of the world where capacity for research to address it is weakest. We will build partnerships in Africa and Asia so more scientists in these places can pursue world-class research into pressing regional challenges.

We will develop further priorities as we identify more opportunities to transform lives.


Driving reform

We change ways of working so more ideas can flourish.

We have learned so much from the people and organisations we work with around the world. This helps us to recognise practices that enable ideas to reach their full potential – and barriers that stand in their way.

Our record in areas like open access to research results, public engagement, and research careers has earned us the credibility to challenge ways of working, and to propose better alternatives.

We will promote change – leading by example, convening alliances, and campaigning for wider reform. We can move quickly to address an urgent challenge, or think long to build lasting agreement.

We have identified three current priorities for reform. More will follow.

  • Science to health: Scientific insights most improve health when they are applied to diagnosis, prevention and therapy. We will work to improve intellectual property and translation systems so business and academia are encouraged to innovate for better health.
  • Science education: An appreciation of science, for the future scientist or the informed citizen, begins with learning in school and beyond. We will help young people to get an engaging, relevant and inspiring science education.
  • Improving diversity: Inspired thinking gains from the variety of perspectives that people with different backgrounds provide. We will broaden the diversity of the people we fund, engage with and employ.

See it all come together in this short animation

Get involved

We hope you’re as excited as we are about our approach. If you’d like to work with us, we’d be glad to hear from you.

Got an idea that needs funding?

Apply for a grant on our website

Want to suggest a new direction?

Suggest a Frontiers meeting

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Do you have a question?

Email our strategy team

We’ll record any changes to our approach here.

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