Burroughs Wellcome Fund: Grants for Science Research

OVERVIEW: Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) focuses on backing individual researchers and boosting the field of science research by addressing its weak spots. It mostly funds researchers through competitive awards but also gives a handful of grants to nonprofits working to improve the general environment of science. Eligibility and application deadlines vary by award program.

IP TAKE: BWF grants go to both early-career and accomplished researchers, with an emphasis on biology and medical research. Access to these awards goes through university deans or department heads, who nominate researchers. However, program staff offer guidance. 

PROFILE: The Burroughs Wellcome Fund was created in 1955 by the pharmaceutical firm, Burroughs Wellcome Co., founded by Sils Burroughs and Henry Wellcome in 19th-century England. Decades later, the American branch of the Burroughs Wellcome Co. launched the foundation based in North Carolina (not to be confused with the Wellcome Trust in the UK). Since then, the company was absorbed by what is now GlaxoSmithKline, and the foundation was split off in the 1990s to be fully independent of any corporate backing.

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund works to strengthen the overall field of science research by helping early career scientists and by supporting fields that are currently underdeveloped. The fund supports the following funding areas: biomedical sciences, career guidance, diversity in science, infectious diseases, interfaces in science, population and laboratory sciences, regulatory science, reproductive sciences, and science education.

The Biomedical Sciences program invests in “the development of the next generation of academic medical scientists,” which it does by “providing funding to help bridge the gap between the postdoctoral and early faculty years.” Within this program is its Career Award for Medical Scientists, a “$700,000 awards over five years for physician-scientists” to help “bridge the gap” between postdoctoral work and independent research. Also within BWFs biomedical sciences program is the Collaborative Research Travel Grants. Awards for up to $15,000 are given “in support for relatively unrestricted travel funds to academic scientists and trainees (postdocs or fellows) at U.S. or Canadian degree-granting institutions.” Finally, there is the Physician-Scientist Institutional Program, which seeks to “create programs with the intent of increasing opportunities for the physician interested in a research career.”

The Career Guidance for Trainees program seeks to help “trainees understand, acquire, and demonstrate skills that make them ready for complex careers,” and the Diversity in Science Program seeks to provide training and opportunities for underrepresented doctoral and postdoctoral minority scientists.

The Infectious Diseases program’s Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease award offers “$500,000 over five years to support accomplished investigators at the assistant professor level” who “focus primarily on the interplay between human and microbial biology.”

The Interfaces in Science program offers a Career Awards of the Scientific Interface grant of “$500,000 over five years to bridge advanced postdoctoral training and the first three years of faculty service” to scientists with backgrounds in “physics, mathematics, computer science, and engineering who want to explore the new frontier of biology.”

In the area of Population Sciences, Burroughs Wellcome’s  Population and Laboratory Sciences program supports “graduate education in programs that will train students for simultaneous expertise in both population and computational approaches.”

The fund’s Innovation in Regulatory Science program give grantees upwards of “$500,000 over five years” towards working on “new methodologies or innovative approaches in regulatory science that will ultimately inform the regulatory decisions the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and others make.”

The fund also supports research in reproductive science. Its Preterm Birth Initiative provides up to $600,000 over four years to “increase the understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying parturition and spontaneous preterm birth,” defined as birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

Finally, the Translational Research grant program is dedicated to “providing early-career support for physician scientists.” Grants are primarily six-figure, multi-year, and average around $500,000.Burroughs Wellcome Fund's grantmaking process is fairly structured but relatively transparent. While most grants are set up in award form, with nominations coming from universities and going before independent panels, the foundation invites potential awardees contact the staff overseeing the awards to help determine the likelihood of winning (provided that your question is not already answered in the FAQs section that can be found under each program).

Potential applicants are invited to contact them directly, or participate in scheduled conference calls. Upcoming deadlines are listed here and here.


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