Wellcome Leap Program: Untangling Addiction

Closing Date: 21/12/2023

Funding for novel and innovative research to make impactful change in how substance and alcohol use disorders are prevented and treated.

Founded in 1936, the Wellcome Trust is an independent foundation that seeks to improve health by supporting researchers and addressing big health challenges. The Wellcome Leap Program aims to deliver breakthroughs in human health by providing funding at scale and within short timeframes.

Wellcome Leap’s tenth funding initiative is Untangling Addiction, which seeks to address the critical gap in the understanding and treatment of substance use disorders.

It is estimated that worldwide there are 108 million people addicted to alcohol and nearly 40 million people addicted to illicit drugs. In 2019, alcohol use disorder (AUD) killed 168,000 people worldwide and was a risk factor in an additional 2.44 million deaths. In the same year, substance use disorder (SUD) – partly defined by continued use of substances despite negative consequences – killed over 128,000 people worldwide. Addiction continues to rise despite increased expenditure on drug abuse prevention and treatment, and the relapse rate is high. Another aspect of concern is the rise in addiction to and misuse of prescription opioids.

Wellcome Leap considers that a new approach is needed that measures and characterises the underlying neural and physiological factors that are affected and altered by addiction, and incorporates that understanding into the treatment and tracking of recovery.

A primary objective of this funding initiative is to identify biomarkers that can be detected through non-invasive or minimally invasive methods (eg blood tests, somatosensory evoked potentials etc) to facilitate quantitative assessment of the fundamental changes and neurobiological underpinnings of drug abuse and, ultimately, to demonstrate increased efficacy of prevention and treatment approaches using these quantitative methods.

To that end, the programme goals are to:

  • Develop scalable measures to assess individual addiction susceptibility to a range of addictive and potentially addictive substances.
  • Quantify addiction risk and progression during prescription drug use.
  • Develop innovative treatments and quantifiably assess recovery using new or existing treatments, on a personalised basis, such that the risk of relapse is reduced by a factor of 2 post treatment.

By applying knowledge gained from neuroscience, genetics and pharmacology, the aim to set a new standard for patient outcomes in SUD.

Proposals are required for work in one or more of the following thrust areas.

  • Thrust Area 1: Comprehensive neurobiological and behavioural measurement, and modelling of addiction risk and recovery.
  • Thrust Area 2: Validation and optimisation of neurobiological biomarkers for SUD and AUD.
  • Thrust Area 3: Longitudinal studies of prescription opioid use, addiction risk trajectories and prevention strategies.
  • Thrust Area 4: Retrospective analysis of broad existing datasets for addiction risk.
  • Thrust Area 5: Novel interventions.

Proposers should clearly relate work in these thrust areas to one or more of the programme goals.

Funding body Wellcome Trust
Maximum value Discretionary
Reference ID S25814
Category Medical Research
Fund or call Fund