Mental health given key role in new Wellcome strategy

23rd Oct 2020

Wellcome logoWellcome this week released its new strategy and vision and the results of its science funding review, and with it significant changes to how it will fund research in the future.

What might this mean for UK neuroscience? Here we present 4 key points for neuroscientists on the new strategy. 

1. Mental health given a central focus

As part of its new vision, funding will be focused to develop solutions to three urgent worldwide health challenges: mental health, global heating, and infectious diseases. In its science funding review, Wellcome identified that there is an opportunity for it to 'reshape the field' of mental health and develop more effective interventions: 

"By entering this area Wellcome can make use of what makes us different, including our perspective on research into mental health interventions and neuroscience, our strong portfolio of basic research, and our new Priority Area in Mental Health, which has focused on anxiety and depression in young people."  (Wellcome Science Review 2020)

This finding is reflected in the new strategy, with Wellcome aiming to "pull disparate scientific and clinical fields together" and better involve people with lived experience of mental health problems and treatments in this work. 

It’s important that neuroscience plays a key role within this, underpinning much of our understanding on mental health.

2. Wellcome's funding schemes are changing

On the way out: existing schemes, which will close during 2021
Coming soon: a simplified set of schemes for discovery science, which will open summer 2021

Three new discovery research schemes aim to enable researchers to generate new health-related insights, tools and technologies, open to any discipline focusing on health. For the three new health challenge programmes, funding will be directed in different ways across each programme.

The full details on what this new set of funding schemes will look like will arrive in early 2021 ahead of these opening for applications in the summer. 

3. Making a positive impact on research culture

Wellcome aims with its new funding schemes to “give researchers more freedom, time and resource to pursue their ideas and build a better research culture”, very much aligning with their ongoing work in this area.  

At the BNA, we view changing research culture as a hugely important part of ensuring credibility in neuroscience, and building a culture that enables researchers to embrace credible research practices should be very much a part of these new schemes.

4. Where Wellcome funds neuroscience may change

In Jeremy Farrar’s accompanying message on the new programmes in the strategy, he states “Wellcome’s funding in these three programmes will be global in ambition, perspective and eligibility.” This is likely to mean more opportunities for neuroscience research that involves international partners – and the new funding schemes will be open to applicants from the rest of the world too, if applying as part of a team.

It is also possible that, as part of the new funding schemes, some of the existing geographic concentration of research funding may be impacted. As one example, 11 of the 44 current Principal Research Fellowships are for neuroscience research, but none of these awards are for research outside of the Oxford-Cambridge-London area. With new awards being awarded in the coming years both within and outside the UK, this could be a key opportunity to fund excellent neuroscience wherever it’s located.  

If you have any comments or questions, please email BNA’s Head of Policy and Campaigns,


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