The UK is the 3rd-largest public funder of global health R&D

In 2015, the UK provided US$125 million for product development for poverty-related and neglected diseases (PRNDs), referred to as ‘global health R&D’ in this profile, according to G-FINDER. This makes the UK the third-largest public funder for global health R&D after the United States, and the European Union institutions.  

According to G-FINDER data, the focus of UK global health product development R&D spending in 2015 was on malaria (US$28 million; 22%), tuberculosis (US$24 million; 19%), core funding for organizations that engage in R&D for multiple diseases (US$24 million; 19%), and African viral hemorrhagic fevers (US$23 million; 18%).

The UK regards product development partnerships (PDPs) as one of the most important instruments to advance global health product development R&D. Accordingly, almost half of the UK’s global health R&D funding in 2015 went to PDPs (US$56 million; 45%). Academic and other research institutions received a combined 37% (US$46 million).

The UK does not a have a single strategy for global health R&D. Instead, responsibilities for global health R&D and related areas such as disease surveillance and epidemic response are dispersed across various government agencies and research institutions, with each setting its own priorities.

The most important institutions for global health R&D are the Department for International Development (DFID), the Department of Health (DOH), and the Medical Research Council (MRC). There are ongoing discussions among the different institutions about a joint governance mechanism to coordinate strategy on global health R&D, or on ODA-funded research more broadly.

In 2015, the UK channeled its global health research and product development funding through three institutions: DFID (US$63 million; 51% of total spending, according to G-FINDER data), which focuses on funding for PDPs and delivery-related research; the MRC (US$58 million; 47%), which focuses primarily on basic and early clinical research; and Public Health England (US$3 million; 2%), which concentrates on basic research and undertakes some clinical research in the area of vaccines. The Wellcome Trust also cooperates closely with the UK government on global health R&D.

In March 2015 the UK announced the creation of new funds that are central to the UK’s global health R&D activities for 2016 to 2020:

  • The Ross Fund (£1 billion for FY2016-20), is a government portfolio of investments to support development, testing, and delivery of new health new health products related to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), including malaria and tuberculosis; neglected tropical diseases; and diseases with epidemic potential, such as Ebola. The Ross Fund portfolio is managed by two departments (DFID and the Department of Health), rather than as a true cross-government fund.
  • The Ross Fund portfolio includes the Fleming Fund (£195 million) whose creation was announced in March 2015. It seeks to strengthen surveillance on drug resistance and laboratory capacity in developing countries. The Ross Fund also comprises the new Global AMR Innovation Fund, to encourage investments from government and the private sector into AMR-related research. The UK Aid Strategy committed an additional £70 million to the Fleming Fund and an extra £40 million to the new Global AMR Innovation Fund. Moreover, the Ross Fund portfolio includes £110 million for the UK Vaccines Research and Development Network, to bring together expertise from industry, academic, and philanthropic organizations to develop and trial new vaccines for diseases of epidemic potential.
  • Another key funding instrument is the Global Challenges Research Fund (£1.5 billion for FY2016-17 to FY2020-21) which supports cutting-edge research on challenges related to emerging vital threats in developing countries. This is not limited to global health R&D, but covers a wide range of other development objectives, and is administered through delivery partners including the Research Council in the UK and national academies. 

DFID’s Research and Evidence Division leads on global health R&D policy

DFID’s Research and Evidence Division manages the global health research portfolio, overseen by DFID’s Chief Scientific Adviser and Director of Research. The Research and Evidence Division has an operational plan that sets out its vision and strategic priorities for a five-year period. The current plan runs from 2011 to 2016 and a new one is currently in development (as of March 2017).

Based on the operational plan, the Research and Evidence Division develops business cases for investments and commitments to specific research programs that are approved by DFID leadership. In addition, the Medical Research Council (MRC), a publicly-funded organization to support research across areas within medical science, has a governing body (the Council) that decides on strategic and financial issues. The MRC receives internal advice from its Strategy Board and the Global Health Group, which includes DFID’s Chief Scientific Advisor. The Global Health Group is responsible for ensuring that the MRC provides an effective health R&D strategy that takes into account research that is relevant to resource-poor settings.