Wellcome Leap Establishes Global Network Dedicated to Accelerated Breakthroughs in Human Health

Charter group of 21 world-class institutions representing a network of over 150,000 researchers across six continents sign agreement that sets new bar for fast-paced research and development.

Charter group of 21 world-class institutions representing a network of
over 150,000 researchers across six continents sign agreement that sets new bar for fast-paced research and development.

Jan 28, 2021

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Los Angeles – Jan. 28, 2021: Wellcome Leap (Leap), a U.S.-based non-profit organization founded by the Wellcome Trust to accelerate innovations that benefit global health, today announced the first 21 participants in the Leap Health Breakthrough Network, a global group of leading academic and research institutions committed to solving the world’s most serious health challenges such as cancer and infectious diseases at record speed. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of tackling urgent, large-scale health challenges quickly and across disciplines, organizations, and borders. It’s imperative that good ideas are identified and funded quickly, and that researchers across many institutions can build solutions together. 

Currently it can take as long as a year to finalize a research funding agreement, and when collaboration is required, work frequently cannot begin until all parties are signed further prolonging the delay. What’s more, key components needed to catalyze innovation sometimes come from individual researchers or smaller institutions that are often left out of major research initiatives. Breakthroughs require momentum, and diverse capabilities, wherever they exist globally.

The Leap Health Breakthrough Network will help eliminate barriers to progress thanks to the first-of-its-kind Master Academic Research Funding Agreement (MARFA), which equitably addresses all terms and conditions, including IP, ownership, and publication. Once an organization signs the MARFA, any researcher or group will need to negotiate only the statement of work and cost before funds can be transmitted and work can begin. Often in days, shaving months or more off of development timelines. 

“Science and engineering should move at the pace of breakthroughs, not the pace of contracting,said Leap CEO Regina E. Dugan. “Wellcome Leap has removed traditional obstacles to build a network that can mobilize and synchronize to solve problems in human health faster than has ever been possible.”

Charter signatories for the network include: Agency for Science, Technology and Research; California Institute of Technology; Carnegie Mellon University; Francis Crick Institute; Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; National University of Singapore; University of Auckland; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California San Diego; University of Cape Town; University of Dundee; University of Pittsburgh; University of São Paulo; University of Southern California; Uppsala University; Vanderbilt University; Virginia Tech; Wellcome Sanger Institute; Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering; and Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

“The world has just seen an unprecedented scientific advance the delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine in 10 months,” said Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. “Wellcome Leap has catalyzed a first-ever global network that will help deliver, well beyond this pandemic, new breakthroughs along what would previously have been considered impossible timelines.”

Participants in the Leap Health Breakthrough Network as well as commercial partners will play an ongoing part in Leap’s work to build and execute bold, unconventional programs, funded at scale. This includes efforts such as the $50 million Human Organs, Physiology, and Engineering (HOPE) program, announced in late 2020. 

Ken Gabriel, COO of Leap, said: “The opportunities for health breakthroughs are rich at the intersection of life sciences and engineering. This network will efficiently bring together collaborators from across disciplines to drive and deliver advances in global health.”

Institutions interested in joining the Leap Health Breakthrough Network should send an email to: HBNet@wellcomeleap.org.

About Wellcome Leap

Wellcome Leap builds and executes bold, unconventional programs, funded at scale. Programs that aim to deliver breakthroughs in human health over 5 – 10 years. Founded by the Wellcome Trust in 2020 as a US nonprofit with initial funding of $300 million, Leap programs target complex human health challenges with the goal of achieving breakthrough scientific and technological solutions. Operating at the intersection of life sciences and engineering, Leap programs require best-in-class, multi-disciplinary, global teams assembled from universities, companies, and nonprofits working together to solve problems that they cannot solve alone.




Quotes from Signatories

“There is a pressing need for scientists, engineers and innovators worldwide to work together as the world faces some of its biggest health challenges today. Wellcome Leap’s initiative to build and fund programmes targeting breakthroughs in human health is a much-needed opportunity for the international research community to collectively engage and advance scientific discovery, and catalyse health innovations. A*STAR is glad to be part of this global initiative alongside the National University of Singapore, and looks forward to contributing Singapore’s scientific capabilities towards accelerating progress for human health.”
Andy Hor, Deputy Chief Executive (Research) – Agency for Science, Technology and Research
“At Caltech, we welcome the opportunity to work with like-minded institutions that recognize the benefit of investing in high-risk, high-reward research, aiming to define new arenas of scientific discovery and technological impact.”

Thomas F. Rosenbaum, President – Caltech

“Carnegie Mellon is excited to be a charter member of the Wellcome Leap program, bringing research expertise from across the university to unleash breakthrough knowledge and solutions for global healthcare. This cross-disciplinary, collaborative approach to research is the defining element of CMU’s ability to innovate and do work that matters.”

Michael McQuade, Vice President for Research – Carnegie Mellon University 

“The Crick is excited by the opportunity to engage in such a novel and ambitious funding initiative. The multidisciplinary, global teams that Leap will enable have the potential to drive transformational benefits for human health. We look forward to seeing the impact.”

Sam Barrell, Chief Operating Officer – Francis Crick Institute

“MIT is committed to solving difficult problems in healthcare and doing so with the spirit of collaboration–we affirm the value of a global, multi-disciplinary approach to accelerate breakthroughs in this space.”

Martin Schmidt, Provost – Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“While the aim of biomedical research has not changed, the ways and means by which such research is conducted now draws in multiple partners and resources.  We applaud Wellcome Leap’s radical and innovative approach to funding use-inspired research, and look forward to partnering Leap along with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in pursuit of transformational solutions to the health challenges of our time.”

Yap Seng CHONG, Dean of Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine – National University of Singapore

“The University of Auckland is delighted to be one of the charter signatories to this programme. Response to challenges such as Covid provide a critical example of the value of speed of response and harnessing global reach in ideas and capability that MARFA will enable.”

James Metson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) – University of Auckland

“We are honored for UCLA to become a part of Wellcome Leap’s global network, collaborating with other leading research institutions to advance human health through DARPA-like initiatives.”

Gene Block, Chancellor – University of California, Los Angeles

“UC San Diego has a shared interest in accelerating human health breakthroughs by engineering new technologies and applying them in research. Partnering with Leap allows our renowned researchers opportunities to collaborate with global, multi-disciplinary teams to advance the frontiers of knowledge and disseminate transformational discoveries.”

Pradeep K. Khosla, Chancellor – University of California San Diego

“The University of Cape Town looks forward to working with our fellow MARFA signatories to unleash truly transformative solutions to global challenges.”

Sue Harrison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation – University of Cape Town

“Dundee is proud to be a charter signatory of LEAP and to realising the collaborative advantage of this incredible network to accelerating health breakthroughs and transform lives.”

Iain Gillespie, Principal and Vice-Chancellor – University of Dundee

“The University of Pittsburgh is proud to play our part in this extraordinary opportunity. With our deep bench of health sciences innovators and bioengineering pioneers, Pitt can and will help fuel this ambitious global push to realize breakthroughs for society’s gain.” 

Patrick Gallagher, Chancellor – University of Pittsburgh

“Proud to join Wellcome Leap and alongside with important research institutions contribute to breakthroughs in science.”

Sylvio Canuto, Research Provost – University of São Paulo 

“USC is excited to play a role in this worldwide effort to bring teams from a wide range of disciplines together to accelerate advancements in human health. We believe partnerships between the public and private sectors will be key drivers to delivering breakthroughs on a global scale.

Carol L. Folt, President – University of Southern California

“Global health challenges must be addressed from many angles and perspectives. We are proud to take part in this urgent collaborative effort.”

Anders Hagfeldt, Vice-Chancellor – Uppsala University

“Today our society faces some of the greatest challenges ever known. But it is often these difficult moments that bring out the best in humanity. Vanderbilt’s research and scholarly mission has always been guided by a pursuit of excellence. We are pleased to join Wellcome Leap in a similar spirit of achieving breakthrough innovation through sustained commitment, intellectual rigor and a spirit of global collaboration across multiple disciplines and institutions.”

Daniel Diermeier, Chancellor – Vanderbilt University

“Virginia Tech and Wellcome Leap are aligned in taking on the most daunting challenges in human health and we are excited to be among the first universities with a research agreement that will facilitate our partnership in this ambitious effort.”

Tim Sands, President – Virginia Tech

“This is a fantastic and innovative initiative that offers huge potential. Global multi-disciplinary collaborations that accelerate science are at the heart of many of the Sanger Institute’s research efforts. We embrace such opportunities to stretch our imagination and explore new scientific possibilities at scale so that new discoveries can be made to support human health. This agreement and Leap are clearly a great way of strengthening and supporting this approach further.”

Martin Dougherty, Chief Operating Officer – Wellcome Sanger Institute

“The Wyss Center in Geneva is excited to be a member of the Leap community accelerating visionary science and technology.”

Mary Tolikas, CEO – Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering


What is the MARFA?

If you wish to participate in Leap programs or become a part of the Health Breakthrough Network (“HBNet”), it will be necessary for your organization to become a signatory to the Master Academic Research Funding Agreement (“MARFA”). The MARFA contains all the basic terms and conditions governing execution of a project and receipt of funding. The MARFA may be and often is    signed before specific projects of interest are identified, accelerating project starts and funding for any researcher in the organization.

Because all the terms have already been agreed upon, once a proposal from an organization in the HBNet is accepted, only a Statement of Work (“SOW”) and cost need be negotiated and signed by the Performer and Leap for work to begin. The SOW may be part of a larger program of research funded by Leap, having a common goal (a “Leap Program”), or an independent effort, as discussed further below.

How is my confidential information treated?

Under the MARFA, once an effort is underway, the Performer and Leap may exchange confidential information during the period of the funded project, subject to the standard confidentiality provisions of the MARFA.  Any information of an obviously confidential nature is protected – with or without explicit marking – consistent with our view that a strict marking requirement can limit collaborative exchange or lead to unintended consequences, i.e., “gotchas”. Performers are always free to mark their own confidential information, should they elect to do so.

Is third party funding permitted?

There is no restriction on third party funding unless that funding directly supports a Leap-funded project. Direct third party funding of Leap-funded projects requires Leap’s prior written approval, to ensure that there are no changes to Leap-funded project objectives, IP ownership of any research results is clear, and that commercialization (as appropriate) is not unduly hindered.

Is there any possibility of joint invention and if so, how is ownership handled?

In theory, a joint invention could result from a Performer’s interactions with Leap or with other Performers within the same Leap Program. Specifically, the latter could occur during occasional group meetings organized by Leap to discuss progress against the Leap Program goal. It is at the discretion of  each organization to decide if and when to enter into any appropriate agreement (e.g., a mutual NDA) with the organization(s) the other Performer(s) represent.

Under the MARFA, Leap assigns any interest Leap may have in joint intellectual property to your organization. We retain a non-exclusive license solely for R&D purposes, which can be sublicensed to other non-profit entities only to ensure continued development.  However, if you can show that granting this license would create an unintended hinderance to the Leap Program goals, such as scaling and distribution, Leap will reconsider this requirement.

Does Leap require rights to existing intellectual property?

Leap requires that each Performer identify any existing (background) intellectual property likely to be required for the Leap-funded research or the potential commercialization of a resulting product or technology. To the extent your organization is able to grant a non-exclusive R&D license to Leap (i.e., this is not prevented by any existing agreement), we generally require that. However, as above, if the Performer can show that granting this license would create an unintended hinderance to the Program goals, Leap will reconsider this requirement.

Does Leap have the right to delay or prevent publication of the results?

Leap prioritizes publication of research results, generally, and, in particular, under an open access policy. We do require each Performer to provide an advance copy of any proposed publication or public presentation in order to review the same for Leap confidential information or potentially patentable subject matter. This review period is limited to 30 days but Leap will endeavor to review as quickly as possible. As you may realize, this is common in research funding agreements and Leap believes it is a reasonable compromise to ensure against the loss of IP rights that may be necessary to commercialize Leap-funded research and to protect legitimate interest in any confidential information shared with a Performer.  If patentable subject matter is identified, Leap may request a further delay until a patent application can be filed but in no case, more than an additional 30 days. 

What obligation, if any, does the Performer have to commercialize the results? 

Leap anticipates that it will normally further our mission (and the organization’s mission) to commercialize the results of Leap-funded research. If Leap determines that a Performer’s organization is not making appropriate efforts to further commercialization, either itself or through a third party (e.g., a licensee), Leap has the option to request a meeting and a remedial commercialization plan to address the issue. If, within six (6) months of the remedial plan, appropriate efforts to commercialization have not been made, Leap reserves the right to assume responsibility for commercialization (i.e., “step-in”), either itself or through a third party. In the unlikely event Leap were to exercise this step-in right, it remains possible, although not guaranteed a priori, that a Performer’s organization would participate financially in the successful commercialization of the research thereafter.

Please note that Leap views exercise of its step-in rights as an extraordinary remedy, and would not intend, nor have any motivation, to exercise this right under any but the most unusual circumstance.

Under what circumstances can the parties terminate?

Either party can terminate the MARFA for an uncured breach and other conventional grounds (e.g., bankruptcy), as would be expected. Leap may also terminate the MARFA upon thirty (30) days’ prior written notice to an organization. Please note that Leap would not intend, nor have any motivation, to exercise this right under any but the most unusual circumstance. An organization may also terminate the MARFA if there are no pending SOWs at a given time.

Leap may also terminate a SOW for convenience, although would not intend, nor have any motivation, to exercise this right under normal circumstances. To preserve the integrity of integrated programs and mutual dependencies across disciplines and organizations, an organization may not terminate an ongoing SOW for convenience.  Either the Performer organization or Leap may terminate a SOW if it is determined, in good faith, that the R&D is no longer academically, technically or commercially feasible, upon thirty (30) days’ prior written notice to the other party.

What are the eligible costs for Leap Programs?

Full direct and government-certified indirect costs appropriate to the execution of the research, are eligible. 


Institutions interested in joining the Leap Health Breakthrough Network should send an email to: HBNet@wellcomeleap.org.

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