The UK is the 2nd-largest public funder of global health R&D

In 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) provided US$101 million for product development for poverty-related and neglected diseases (PRNDs), referred to as ‘global health research and development (R&D)’ in this profile. These figures are based on the G-FINDER survey conducted by Policy Cures Research. This makes the UK the second-largest public funder of global health R&D after the United States (US), up from third-largest in 2015, when the UK followed the US and the European Union. Funding levels are higher than 2015 but lower compared to previous years.   

According to G-FINDER data, the focus of UK global health R&D spending in 2016 was on malaria (US$23 million, or 23%), tuberculosis (US$19 million; 19%), and HIV/AIDS (US$11 million, or 11%). However, the largest portion of funding went to organizations that engage in R&D for multiple diseases (US$27 million, or 27%).

The UK regards product development partnerships (PDPs) as one of the most important instruments to advance global health R&D. Accordingly, half of the UK’s global health R&D funding in 2016 went to PDPs (US$51 million; 50%). Academic and other research institutions received a combined 27% (US$27 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), which was brought under the umbrella group Research Councils UK (RCUK) in April 2018. The goal of RCUK is to enhance collaboration among the seven UK research councils. There are ongoing discussions among the different institutions about a joint governance mechanism to coordinate strategy on global health R&D specifically, or on ODA-funded research more broadly.

In 2016, DFID managed 55% of spending on global health R&D (US$56 million, according to G-FINDER data), focusing on PDPs and delivery-related research. The MRC manages the second-largest portion of R&D funding (US$42 million; 42%), focusing primarily on basic and early clinical research. Other funds that are central to the UK’s global health R&D activities from 2016 to 2020 include the Ross Fund and Global Challenges Research Fund.

The Ross Fund (£1 billion for fiscal years 2016 to 2020, or US$1.4 billion in 2016 prices) is a government portfolio of investments to support development, testing, and delivery of 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 DOH), rather than as a true cross-government fund. The Ross Fund portfolio includes the Fleming Fund (£195 million in planned spending, or US$263 million in 2016 prices), which 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’ (‘UK aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest’) committed an additional £70 million (US$95 million in 2016 prices) to the Fleming Fund and an extra £40 million (US$54 million in 2016 prices) to the new Global AMR Innovation Fund. Moreover, the Ross Fund portfolio includes £110 million (US$149 million in planned spending in 2016 prices) for the UK Vaccines Research and Development Network, to bring together expertise from industry, academic, and philanthropic organizations to develop and test 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, or US$2 billion) 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 that include 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 February 2018).

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 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.