From equity to priority setting: Where we can improve funding epidemic and pandemic research for the future

2 November, 2021

A report, ‘Funding and undertaking research during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic: COVID CIRCLE lessons for funders’, published today, presents key lessons and future guidance for research funders to address the challenges of funding and conducting research in the context of an epidemic or pandemic, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the global research community has begun to take stock of lessons learned when it comes to funding research during a global health crisis, especially in LMICs.

Aimed at global research funders, the new report from UKCDR and GloPID-R’s COVID Research Coordination & Learning (COVID CIRCLE) initiative draws on its comprehensive database of more than 13,000 funded COVID-19 research projects across 160 countries held in the COVID-19 Research Project Tracker.

The report identified a number of barriers experienced by funders and researchers across the globe in the process of undertaking and funding COVID-19 research. These barriers include issues of equity and access, and delays to, and sometimes a lack of, regionally developed research priorities, hindering the alignment of funding and research.

Key lessons for funders from this pandemic that will enable future funding preparedness and response include:

  • the appreciation of the early development of the WHO & GloPID-R Research Roadmap;
  • leveraging pre-existing partnerships and funding to enable rapid response;
  • the need for greater support for open science and data sharing practices in epidemics, along with buy-in and support of LMICs;
  • the need for greater global funder collaboration.

Many examples of best research practice and innovative funding mechanisms that have taken place during the pandemic to date are highlighted. Examples of these are the European and Developing Countries, Clinical Trial Partnership (EDCTP) rapid emergency funding mechanism which mobilised €12.75m for research implemented in 25 Sub-Saharan African countries.

The report also provides specific recommendations on the actions that funders could pursue to improve the implementation of the Funder Principles, particularly in low-resource settings.

These include the need for greater long-term funding of networks which would provide the capacity to pivot to emerging diseases; the need for greater guidance, support and systems to realise Open Science; and greater global coordination including joint funding mechanisms.

Lessons learned in the report are framed around COVID CIRCLE’s ‘Funder principles for research in epidemics Funders Principles for Supporting High-Quality Research for the Most Pressing Global Needs in Epidemics and Pandemics’ which build on best practice guidance from key stakeholders and include commitments to ensure that research outputs are shared rapidly to inform policy and practice in epidemic situations. These have been embedded into funding practices e.g. the Global Effort on COVID-19 Health Research (GECO) included adherence to the principles in its funding call guidelines.

The challenges and potential solutions for achieving the Funder Principles require action from a range of stakeholders. The authors of the report issue an urgent call for the Principles to be endorsed by research funders: they call upon donors, governments and any other entities supporting research to address needs during the current as well as future epidemics and pandemics.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome Trust said:

We shouldn’t be stopping our efforts now. Covid-19 still threatens society, particularly in low-resource settings. Funding research only in high-income countries won’t halt its progress. It remains crucial to continue collaborative research with low- and middle-income countries to ensure we don’t repeat mistakes in response to future pandemics.

Prof. Charles Wiysonge, GloPID-R Vice Chair, South Africa said:

“GloPID-R is excited to move this agenda forward through its LMIC funder working group and through an ongoing drive to expand regional membership and improve collaboration and cohesion of research funding preparedness and response.” 

Dr Alice Norton, Research Lead for COVID CIRCLE and corresponding author said:

“The COVID CIRCLE principles set a benchmark for research funding and coordination for the most pressing global needs in an epidemic or pandemic. We would like to encourage more funders to embed them into their practices. Through creating mechanisms for greater funding efficiency, we can channel funding into the spaces with the greatest need that are currently under-researched.” 

Virtual dialogue

To launch the report, a virtual event is being held this afternoon (2nd November, 14:00-15:30 GMT), co-hosted by UKCDR and GloPID-R. The dialogue will hear directly from the funders on their reflections from funding COVID-19 research and the best practices to retain for future epidemic and pandemic situations, with a specific focus on low-and middle-income countries. Still a chance to sign up here




COVID CIRCLE was established in 2020 by the UK Collaborative for Development Research (UKCDR) and Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R) as part of the support by UK funders of COVID-19 research aligned to the WHO Roadmap for the benefit of low- and middle-income countries.


The UK Collaborative on Development Research (UKCDR) is a group of UK government departments and research funders working in international development research. UKCDR exists to amplify the value and impact of research for global development by promoting coherence, collaboration and joint action among UK research funders. UKCDR is governed by the Strategic Coherence of ODA-funded Research (SCOR) Board. 

About GloPID-R

The Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness is a global alliance of research funding organisations with 32 members and 4 observers (WHO, CEPI, EDCTP, and ESSENCE).  It was created to facilitate coordinated research related to new and emerging infectious diseases with epidemic and pandemic potential and to foster collaboration among funders based on common goals and principles, and identifying gaps to align funding with research needs, especially in LMICs. The GloPID-R Secretariat is a project that receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 874667.


Funding for the work: The COVID CIRCLE initiative is funded by Wellcome, UK DHSC, and UKRI. UKCDR is core funded by FCDO, UK BEIS, UKRI, UK DHSC, Wellcome, and DEFRA. The GloPID-R Secretariat is a project that receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 874667.

Media contacts


Nicole Huxley (UK)

+44 (0)20 7611 2093


Mary Shaffer (France)

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