United Kingdom - Global health R&D

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

In 2018, the UK provided US$230 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 US. Funding levels in 2018 were more than double those in 2016 (US$105 million) and are likely to continue to rise, considering the priority given to R&D within the UK’s development agenda.

A third (US$68 million) of the UK’s global health R&D spending in 2018 was not allocated to one disease, 21% (US$48 million) went to malaria, 16% (US$36 million) focused on combatting tuberculosis, and 11% (US$25 million) went to kinetoplastid diseases according to G-FINDER data. Drugs represented the main product type funded by the UK in 2018, accounting for 38% of the total. 33% of funding was not specified to a single product type. Other notable categories of product type included basic research (7%), vaccines (7%), and microbicides (6%).

UK's Global Health R&D

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Despite its focus on global health R&D, the UK does not have a single strategy for the sector. 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, and each has its own strategies. As well as the former Department for International Development (DFID), the most important institutions have been the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC), a publicly funded organization that supports research across areas within medical science. A joint DFID-DHSC global health research working group established in 2017 used to coordinate ODA-funded research on global health. Alongside this, there was also a Strategic Coherence of Official Development Assistance-funded Research Board (SCOR), tasked with coordinating development priorities across all ODA-funded research. It is unclear to what degree these governance structures will be maintained under the new department.

According to the G-Finder data, in 2018, DFID managed 53% of global health R&D spending (or US$121 million) and focused on product development partnerships (PDPs) and delivery-related research. 28% (or US$64 million) was managed by DHSC and 17% (or US$38 million) was managed by the MRC.

Other funds central to the UK’s global health R&D activities include the Ross Fund and Global Challenges Research Fund. The Ross Fund, which allocated £1.0 billion (US$1.3 billion) for FY 2016 to 2020, is a government portfolio of investments to support development, testing, and delivery of new health products related to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), neglected tropical diseases, and diseases with epidemic potential, such as Ebola. The Ross Fund portfolio used to be managed by DFID and DHSC. It includes the Fleming Fund (with a budget of £265 million or US$353 million) which seeks to strengthen surveillance on drug resistance and laboratory capacity in poorer countries. The new Global AMR Innovation Fund, which encourages investments from the government and the private sector into AMR-related research, is also part of the Ross Fund. Another key funding instrument is the Global Challenges Research Fund, which was allocated £1.5 billion (US$2.0 billion) in 2015 to fund cutting-edge research into challenges facing partner countries, including in global health between 2016 and 2021. It is funded by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) but forms part of the UK’s ODA commitment.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the UK’s largest funder of health and care research. Much of its research is domestically focused but it also has a Global Health Research program with a total budget of £430 million (US$574 million) between 2016 to 2021 which it uses to fund research into improving global public health outcomes.

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

The Research and Evidence Division of the former Department for International Development (DFID) managed the UK’s global health research portfolio and was overseen DFID’s chief scientific adviser and director of research. The Research and Evidence Division was guided by an operational plan that set out its vision and strategic priorities for a five-year period. It is unclear the degree to which these structures will be maintained under the new department.

Based on the operational plan, the Research and Evidence Division developed a business case for investments and commitments to specific research programs that were approved by DFID leadership. In addition, the Medical Research Council (MRC) has a governing body (the Council) that decides on strategic and financial issues.