Wellcome’s £5 Billion Boost to British Science
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
A month out from the November spending review, Britain’s scientists are braced for bad news. Rumours continue to swirl about another five years of flat budgets,a likely merger of research councils, and the culling of other funding bodies. Next Monday, the pressure group Science is Vital is hosting a rally at Conway Hall in London where prominent voices from across the research community will spell out the case for public investment.
So in these uncertain times, today’s announcement by the Wellcome Trust is a shot in the arm for UK science. The trust, which is now the second highest-spending foundation in the world, will significantly boost the amount it invests in research, to a total of £5 billion over the next five years. The ambition of this is clear when set against £6 billion that the trust has spent over the past decade, and £11 billion since it was first set up in 1936.
I spoke yesterday with Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome’s director for the past two years, who has spearheaded development of its new strategy. He explained that the “bedrock” of the trust’s plans is its £18 billion investment portfolio “which has performed remarkably, allowing us to spend more without touching our endowment.”
The trust’s approach is now based around three linked themes. Under the heading of “advancing ideas”, Wellcome will continue to fund fundamental breakthroughs in biomedicine and health. Farrar is keen to emphasise that there will be “no reduction at all in the amount we spend in investigator-led, discovery science. We’re adding to, rather than replacing this, with our new themes.”
A bigger shift is signaled by the theme of “seizing opportunities.” Influenced by its pivotal role in the fast-track development of an Ebola vaccine, the trust now wants to make larger, more targeted investments in areas of urgent need, such asantimicrobial resistance and vaccine development in low-income countries. Other priorities include the links between health, food and the natural environment; improving the evidence base for public policy; and strengthening the capacity of research leaders in Africa and Asia.