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Pathfinder Awards

This scheme, offering pilot funding to catalyse innovative early-stage applied research and development projects in areas of unmet medical need, has been expanded. It now funds discrete projects from applicants in the UK and Republic of Ireland as well as partnerships between academia and industry based anywhere in the world.
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The Wellcome Trust is seeking to kick-start pilot projects that have significant potential to help develop innovative new products that address an unmet need in healthcare and offer a potential new solution. Pathfinder Awards fund innovative discrete pilot studies to develop assets and de-risk future development.

We aim both to support discrete projects for eligible organisations and to stimulate partnerships:

  • Academic and commercial organisations in the UK or the Republic of Ireland can apply for individual awards.
  • Partnerships between academic and commercial entities, based anywhere in the world, can also apply. We envisage that an academic (or not-for-profit) lead with an early-stage programme will build on or establish a partnership with a company that has specialist knowledge and access to technologies to facilitate the development of a specific novel product (see ‘Partnerships’).

Priorities for Pathfinder Award funding include (in no particular order):

  • discrete high-quality experiments to demonstrate proof-of-concept data assay development
  • IP development for a critical experiment to validate IP (in strong cases)
  • stimulating product development that could ultimately improve the outlook for patients with orphan and neglected diseases
  • encouraging effective partnership between a public sector applicant (academic or not-for-profit entity) and a company partner (see ‘Partnerships’).

There should be a strong discrete project focus (not a pipeline or undefined future scope of work).

For all Pathfinder Awards, the concept to be tested must be at an early stage, so an application for a more substantial award through other Innovations funding schemes would be unlikely to succeed. However, the concept must not be at too early a stage. At the end of the award, the innovation should be a credible asset ready to be developed further, and the applicant should be competitive for more substantial Innovations funding or able to bridge the gap to facilitate product development with a downstream partner.

Pathfinder Awards will not support:

  • target validation
  • ‘blue skies’ or curiosity-driven research
  • late-stage programmes already developed to a point where funding from commercial or venture sources could readily be sought to complete the pathway to market
  • programmes already fully funded.

What’s included

Funded projects may last up to 18 months from the agreed start date.

The average award amount is envisaged to be in the region of £100,000, but up to £350,000 will be considered in exceptional circumstances.

If you hold a tenured academic university post, you cannot re-charge your salary (in full or in part) to a Pathfinder Award.

Applications may not include requests for academic institutional overheads, equipment, building or refurbishment expenditure, patent costs, or working capital costs incurred by the company.

Please see our guidance on allowed costs and disallowed costs for further information.

For partnership applications (see ‘Partnerships’), the Wellcome Trust contribution to the partnership will be capped at £100,000.Evidence of matching funding from the company partner will be expected.


You should contact the Innovations team to confirm that your proposal is eligible before submitting a full application form.

Applications are welcome from academic and commercial organisations based in the UK or the Republic of Ireland. Applications from organisations and companies overseas will only be considered when applying in partnership (see ‘Partnerships’).


Eligible institutions are not-for-profit research institutions, including those funded by the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and equivalents that are able to sign up to the Wellcome Trust Grant Conditions.


Commercial companies are eligible to apply either as lead applicants or as collaborators.


We encourage and welcome partnerships between academia and industry. We envisage that an academic lead (or a lead from a not-for-profit entity) will build on or establish a partnership with a company that has specialist knowledge and access to technologies to facilitate the development of a specific product. Typically, an eligible partnership or collaboration would be with an established company that can provide evidence of previously developing a product and taking it to market.

For partnership applications, please contact innovations@wellcome.ac.uk (reference ‘Pathfinders’) with details of:

  • the proposed project that the collaboration is seeking funding for
  • the proposed partnership (describing what both parties will be bringing to the proposed programme to support the research through to a credible exit)
  • how the company partner will be able to provide the required matching funding
  • details of the Company funding status? I.e. how long it has been established, how it is financed and, if it is at an early stage of existence as a company, the stage of fund-raising that it has reached?  Will it have sufficient working capital for the duration of the project if successful?

You should contact the Innovations team to confirm that your proposed partnership is eligible before submitting a full application form.

1. Applications should establish or build on a partnership between a public-sector applicant (from either an academic or a not-for-profit entity) and an industry (company) partner.

2. Projects covering any aspect of product development for any diseases could be considered.

3. Partnerships need to demonstrate they have the means to support the research through to a credible exit (i.e. to an exit that ensures a public benefit can be realised by a downstream development partner, whether that is the company itself or a third party). Evidence that the company has previously developed and subsequently taken to market one or more product lines arising from its own research and development is desired but not essential.

4. The Wellcome Trust contribution to the partnership will be capped at £100,000, and a minimum matching funding contribution is required from the company (in cash and/or in kind).

5. The company will normally be the recipient of these funds.

6. There are no geographical restrictions for partnership Pathfinder Awards. Applications are welcome from appropriate partnerships between entities based anywhere in the world.

7. The partners must enter into a suitable collaboration agreement including provisions detailing: ownership of Trust-funded IP; necessary licences in respect of background IP; confidentiality; publication; and arrangements for the protection, maintenance, exploitation and commercialisation of Trust-funded IP. Lambert templates can be used as a guide if necessary.

8. If there are any restrictions on IP or on publications relating to background IP or arising from the proposed research, you must provide a written statement that details them.

Application process

To maintain momentum, Pathfinder Award applications will be processed as quickly as possible, with no preliminary application phase.

You should contact us to confirm that your proposed application (and partnership, if appropriate) is eligible before submitting a full application form.

After confirming that your application is eligible, please complete your application using WT Grant Tracker.

We can give you advice on preparing your proposal, if you need it.

All applications will be considered by a dedicated internal Pathfinders Assessment Group, and on occasion by independent external experts. There are two deadlines a year, subject to available budget. Please note due to turn around times and the volumes of applications this scheme receives we unfortunately cannot provide detailed feedback on applications.

Pathfinder Awards are governed by the Trust’s Grant Conditions (except as set out below), by other Trust policies and positions, and by the terms of individual Award letters.

We have waived the application of Trust Grant Condition 7(ii) to Pathfinder Awards of up to £100,000. If you hold a Pathfinder Award of up to £100,000, you do not have to seek prior written consent from the Trust to any commercial use of, or grant to any third party of any exploitation rights over, Trust-funded IP; nor do you have to share with the Trust any benefits arising from the exploitation/commercialisation of Trust-funded IP.

For Pathfinder Awards of between £100,000 and £350,000 we may, at our discretion, choose to award by a funding agreement.

Deadlines and Contacts

Applications are considered twice a year.

Deadline for applications:

20 June 2016


Funding decision:

September 2016

Please note that this is a competitive process and all applications received in each call will be assessed and ranked against one another. Only the most highly ranked applications will be offered an Award, within the limits of funding available.


For informal enquires or to confirm the eligibility of a proposed partnership, please contact Innovations and quote ‘Pathfinders’.

Wellcome Trust
Gibbs Building
215 Euston Road. London NW1 2BE
+44 (0)20 7611 5757
+44 (0)20 7611 8857

About your eligibility, the application process or general queries about awards:
+44(0)20 7611 5757

About our online application system:
+44(0)20 7611 8383

Wellcome Trust, Gibbs Building, 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK T:+44 (0)20 7611 8888