The impact of 20 years of malaria research
To coincide with World Malaria Day, we’re publishing of the Wellcome Trust Malaria Portfolio Review. Claire Vaughan summarises its findings, looking at how the Trust has invested in malaria research over the past two decades.
Understanding the impact of the work that we fund in the real-world is fundamental when deciding what our priorities for future research should be. The Wellcome Trust Malaria Portfolio Review combines both retrospective- and prospective-analysis to assess the role the Wellcome Trust has played in malaria research, and identifies the challenges that lie ahead. Working with independent malaria experts on the subject, we have been able to identify key landmarks in the field over the last 20 years, and have sought to understand their development.
Since 1938, the Wellcome Trust has provided substantial support for malaria research dating back to the establishment of the Wellcome Trust Malaria Research Laboratory, in Thessaloniki, Greece by Henry Foy – the Trust’s first scientific employee – where today, in Nairobi and Kilifi, Kenya, in partnership with the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), it has evolved into one of the Trust’s Major Overseas Programmes (MOPs).
From the second half of the 20th Century, the Wellcome Trust has continued to fund malaria-related research across the world, and ‘combating infectious disease’ remains a key part of the Wellcome Trust’s strategy today. In the last two decades specifically, the Wellcome Trust has provided over £189m for malaria research, representing 3 per cent of the Trust’s total spend over this time period. An additional £120m was allocated for core support and infrastructure funding at Wellcome Trust Centres and the Trust’s MOPs – much of which has facilitated malaria-related research – with a further £8.8m committed to malaria-related pathogen and genome sequencing at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.
We found that the Trust’s specific contributions to the field have been notable in four areas:
- through its sustained support of research leaders and young researchers in the field, who have delivered a range of breakthroughs in our knowledge of, and understanding of how to measure, prevent and treat malaria.
- through its support of genomic science at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute which is helping to enhance our understanding of the basic biology of malaria.
- through its support of both researchers and research infrastructure in malaria endemic regions – particularly through our MOPs based in Kenya, Thailand, Vietnam and Malawi. These Units have helped to deliver important clinical investigation studies and tangible impacts on the human malaria disease burden.
- through its involvement and support for multi-agency, cross-sector partnerships and collaborations which have been important in targeting malaria from a number of angles.
However, while the review demonstrates that the Wellcome Trust, working as part of the international community has made important strides in our understanding of malaria, it also concludes that there is still a long way to go. As my colleague Marta Tufet wrote in her post today, malaria remains responsible for an enormous global disease burden. It remains a difficult disease to treat, the emerging resistance to artemisinin-based compounds is a growing global health threat, and there remains no licensed vaccine available.
Among the review’s conclusions, three points remain critical to the challenge we face in combatting malaria:
- A need to complement high-quality basic research with clinical investigation studies, and on-going research to improve the delivery and the scale up of key proven, cost effective interventions that are reducing malaria morbidity and mortality (i.e. long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying, diagnosis and effective use of antimalarial drugs).
- A need to build research capacity and research resources in priority areas, including supporting the development of malaria incidence and mortality surveillance tools and open databases for malaria research;
- The need for international, multi-sector collaborations to tackle malaria. The Trust and other funders must continue to work in collaboration and seek out strategic partners, where appropriate, to maximise the effectiveness of research funds, and the impact of research findings on malaria.
Claire Vaughan, Evaluation Adviser, Wellcome Trust