United Kingdom - Global health R&D

This section focuses on donor countries’ support for global health research and development (R&D) that addresses the global health challenges disproportionately affecting the world’s most disadvantaged people. Following the methodological approach used by Policy Cures Research (read G-Finder’s scope document), it focuses on donor funding and policy in three main areas: 1) emerging infectious diseases (EIDs); 2) poverty-related and neglected diseases (PRNDs); and 3) sexual and reproductive health (SRH). As part of the EID R&D funding, this section also takes a closer look at donor contributions for COVID-19 R&D within the framework of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A). This section excludes domestic funding for health R&D that does not benefit low- and middle-income countries. Not all funding mentioned qualifies as official development assistance, or ODA.)

The UK was the third-largest donor to global health R&D in 2020   

According to data from the G-FINDER survey conducted by Policy Cures Research, the UK contributed US$654 million in total to research and development (R&D) for emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), poverty-related and neglected diseases (PRNDs), and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in 2020, making it the third-largest public donor to R&D for these areas. The majority (70%, or US$457 million) of this funding was spent on R&D for EIDs only, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 18% (US$118 million) was spent on R&D exclusively for PRNDs, and 2% (US$10.4 million) on SRH. 8% (US$55 million) was spent on R&D initiatives targeting PRNDs and EIDs together and 2% (US$11 million) on PRNDs and SRH. The remainder was spent on R&D initiatives targeting multiple disease areas.

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The UK spent US$514 million on R&D for EIDs in 2020  

In 2020, UK spent US$514 million on R&D for EIDs, including funding exclusively for EID R&D (US$457 million), funding for R&D relevant to both EIDs and PRNDs (US$55 million), and funding relevant to EIDs, PRNDs, and SRHs (US$3 million). This makes the UK the third-largest donor to R&D for EIDs in 2019.

UK’s funding for EIDs increased by an enormous US$436 million in 2020 compared to 2019, which is due to the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the UK’s EID R&D funding in 2020 went to ‘coronavirus diseases’ (US$410 million, or 80% of EID R&D funding). Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was the largest recipient of this funding (US$317 million, or 62%) followed by the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND; US$58 million or 11%), and the University of Oxford (US$51 million or 10%). FIND is a global non-profit that accelerates the development and delivery of diagnostic tests. Vaccines (US$361 million, or 70%) and diagnostics (US$27 million, or 5%) were the main products financed by the EID R&D funds. (For more information on policy priorities related to EIDs, see ‘Policy Priorities’ and ‘Global Health.’)

The 2021 Integrated Review of UK Security, Defence, Foreign Policy and Development identifies the need to address global health risks and pandemic preparedness for infectious disease outbreaks as critical to achieving resilience at a global level. The UK plays a leading role in CEPI, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) COVID-19 Vaccines Advance Market Commitment (COVAX AMC), and the World Health Organization (WHO; see ‘Policy Priorities’ and ‘Global Health’).

In addition, the UK has announced £25 million (US$32 million) toward the World Bank hosted ‘Financial Intermediary Fund’ (FIF) for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. FIF’s goal is to “provide funding to countries whose healthcare systems are dangerously unprepared for the challenges caused by large outbreaks of infectious diseases.” The fund will work to ensure a quick respond to, and as far as possible containment of, outbreaks before they spread across the world.

The UK’s funding for PRNDs continued to decrease in 2020 after a period of growth from 2015 - 2018

In 2020, the UK invested US$187 million in R&D for PRNDs, including funding exclusively relevant to PRNDs (US$118 million), areas of overlap with EIDs (US$55 million), areas of overlap with SRH (US$11 million), and areas of overlap with EIDs and SRH (US$3 million). This makes the UK the second-largest public supporter of PRND R&D in 2020. In 2020, funding levels saw a decrease of 15% compared to 2019. Funding for PRND R&D increased from US$94 million in 2015 to US$216 million in 2018, an increase of 129%.

Most of the UK’s funding for PRNDs in 2020 was used for ‘drug R&D’ (35%), followed by ‘basic research’ (8%), and ‘chemical vector control products’ (6%). 35% of PRND funding in 2020 was spent on R&D for more than one disease, 24% on malaria, and 13% on tuberculosis.

The primary recipients of the UK’s PRND R&D funding in 2020 were Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), which each received US$19 million, or 10%, of PRND R&D funding. The government states that it will “continue its collaboration with development partners including the EU and the multilateral development banks on issues such as antimicrobial resistance, AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.” (For more information on PRNDs, see ‘Global Health’.)

UK’s funding for SRH R&D has decreased by 62% from 2019 to 2020

In 2020, the UK spent just over US$24 million on R&D for SRH, including US$11 million on HIV/AIDS. This makes the UK the second-largest donor to this sector in 2020. UK funding for SRH R&D decreased by 62% from US$39 million in 2019 to US$24 million in 2020. SRH was heavily cut in 2020 as the UK ODA budget shrunk in volume as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19.

In addition to HIV/AIDS (44% of SRH R&D funding), UK made disbursements for R&D for sexually transmitted infections (STIs; 21%) and R&D for more than one disease (13%). 25% of SRH R&D funding went toward microbicides, 16% went toward diagnostics, and 16% to drugs. Microbicides are experimental products that prevent the transmission of HIV and STIs.

UK’s R&D investments address global health challenges, partly financed by ODA

Global health R&D is largely financed from its ODA budget – which is managed by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The UK Government has committed to scaling up its public investment in R&D from £14.6 billion (US$18.7 billion) in FY2021/22 to £22 billion (US$28.2 billion) in FY2024/25 as part of a drive to enhance innovation and deliver on the government’s ambition to be a ‘science superpower.’ This includes ODA R&D funding and global health R&D.

The UK Prime Minister’s five-point global pandemic preparedness plan set out at the 75th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2020 proposed a “worldwide network of zoonotic research hubs to spot a new pandemic before it starts.” The plan also targeted the need to increase manufacturing capacity for treatments and vaccines, which may affect funding flows to health R&D in the future. The 2020 Research and Development Roadmap and the 2021 Integrated Review of UK Security, Defence, Foreign Policy identified ODA as a vehicle to support R&D partnerships internationally. In the new international development strategy, released in May 2022, it specifically mentions the need to “invest in the research and innovations needed to keep driving breakthroughs in health systems and health security.” The Comprehensive Spending Review in 2021 also commits to an increasing budget for R&D ODA with R&D ODA rising between 2022 and 2025 to £1 billion (US$1.3 billion) (see ‘ODA trends’), but the FCDO program outturn comparisons between FY2020/21 and FY2021/22 (Table 2) show a decline in the FCDO ‘Research Department’ budget line from US$787 million to US$324 million.

Global health R&D ODA is managed by multiple government departments. In 2020, the FCDO disbursed US$150 million in ODA funding for global health R&D (23% of UK’s overall R&D disbursements for EIDs, PRNDs, and SRH). This is second only to the DHSC, which provided 57% of R&D disbursements for EIDs, PRNDs, and SRH. Other major funders included the UK Medical Research Council (which falls under DHSC) and Innovate UK.