|Founder||Sir Henry Wellcome|
|United Kingdom and overseas|
Dr Jeremy Farrar
|Disbursements||£11 billion (1936–2015)|
The Wellcome Trust is a charitable foundation focused on health research based in London, in the United Kingdom. It was established in 1936 with legacies from the pharmaceutical magnate Henry Wellcome (founder of one of the predecessors of GlaxoSmithKline) to fund research to improve human and animal health. The aim of the Trust is to "support science to solve the urgent health challenges facing everyone." It had a financial endowment of £29.1 billion in 2020, making it the fourth wealthiest charitable foundation in the world. In 2012, the Wellcome Trust was described by the Financial Times as the United Kingdom's largest provider of non-governmental funding for scientific research, and one of the largest providers in the world. According to their annual report, the Wellcome Trust spent GBP £1.1Bn on charitable activities across their 2019/2020 financial year. According to the OECD, the Wellcome Trust's financing for 2019 development increased by 22% to US$327 million.
The Wellcome Trust's operations are run from two buildings on Euston Road in London. The Wellcome Building, at 183 Euston Road, built in 1932 in Portland stone houses the Wellcome Collection and the adjoining glass and steel building at 215 Euston Road is the Gibbs Building, by Hopkins Architects, which opened in 2004 as the administrative headquarters of the Wellcome Trust. In 2019, the Wellcome Trust also opened an office in Berlin.
The trust was established to administer the fortune of the American-born British pharmaceutical magnate Sir Henry Wellcome. Its income was derived from what was originally called Burroughs Wellcome, later renamed in the UK as the Wellcome Foundation Ltd. In 1986, the trust sold 25% of Wellcome plc stock to the public. Overseen by incoming Director of Finance Ian Macgregor, this marked the beginning of a period of financial growth that saw the trust's value increase by almost £14bn in 14 years, as their interests moved beyond the bounds of the pharmaceutical industry.
In 1995, the trust divested itself of any interest in pharmaceuticals by selling all remaining stock to Glaxo plc, the company's historic British rival, creating GlaxoWellcome plc. In 2000, the Wellcome name disappeared from the drug business altogether when GlaxoWellcome merged with SmithKline Beecham, to form GlaxoSmithKline plc.
The Trust funds or co-funds a number of major biomedical research initiatives:
Also known as SDDI, this five-year initiative started in October 2005 with the remit "to facilitate the development of drug-like small molecules that address unmet medical needs." SDDI was based in London and managed by Richard Davis. Through early 2010, SDDI had provided more than £80 million across 30 projects split between academic institutions and companies. To early 2010, all but one of the company recipients were either start-ups or spin-outs. In May 2010, an additional £110 million was added to the SDDI fund with the intent to extend the initiative for an additional 5 years.
The Wellcome Trust announced the need for at least $8 billion of new funding for research, development, and supply of treatments related to COVID-19.
In September 2019, Wellcome launched an initiative to reimagine research and improve the culture in which research is conducted. Current incentive structures and, as a result, culture and practices, prioritise publication outputs above all else. This is damaging people's wellbeing and undermining the quality of research itself.
The Wellcome Trust plays an important role in encouraging publication of research in open access repositories such as Europe PubMed Central (EuropePMC). The Wellcome Trust believes that maximising the distribution of these papers – by providing free, online access – is the most effective way of ensuring that the research can be accessed, read and built upon. In turn, this will foster a richer research culture.
In 2016, the Wellcome Trust partnered with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to launch the Open Science Prize to "help develop services, tools and platforms that enable open content to be discovered, assessed and re-used in ways that will advance discovery and spark innovation."
In 2016, Wellcome Trust announced that it would be launching Wellcome Open Research, an open access publication system running on the F1000 Research platform. Article processing charges will be covered directly by Wellcome Trust. Papers from the system are now indexed in PubMed Central.
In the summer of 2015, the Wellcome Trust joined the Japanese government, 7 Japanese pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the United Nations Development Program as funding partner of the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT), which funds scientific research and development for anti-infectives and diagnostics for diseases that primarily affect the developing world.
In June 2007, the Wellcome Building reopened after refurbishment as a public venue, housing the Wellcome Collection, the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London and the Wellcome Library. The aim of the Wellcome Collection is to enhance public understanding of medical science and history. The building contains gallery spaces, conference facilities, space for debates, drama and workshops, a café and a bookshop. The galleries show a small sample of works from Sir Henry Wellcome's collection, and host a programme of events and exhibitions. The Wellcome Collection and exhibitions are open to the public free of charge six days a week.
The Wellcome Collection and Wellcome Library are members of The London Museums of Health & Medicine.
The Wellcome Trust runs an annual photography prize which aims to explore "the human side of three urgent health challenges". Judges in 2021 include Dr Dixon Chabanda, Sir Jeremy Farrar, Dr Katerina Srahulkova and Azu Nwagbogu. Winners in each category receive a prize of £10,000.
In June 2019, Wellcome released the results of the 2018 global survey on public attitudes toward science and health. Topics include trust of scientists, doctors, and nurses; religion and science, and vaccines, among others. It was Wellcome's first Global Monitor and was intended to "provide robust evidence on how public attitudes vary across different demographic groups and countries."
In August 2014, the Wellcome Trust bought the Co-operative Group's farm business (renamed Farmcare) for £249 million. This comprised "15,997 hectares (39,533 acres) of freehold and third party owned land, 15 farms, including three pack houses, over 100 residential properties, and 27 commercial properties."
It has been reported that the Wellcome Trust has billions of investments on companies which contribute to the problems the philanthropy wants to solve. Also in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been revealed that the trust has investments with pharmaceutical companies, which means it should gain financially from the pandemic.
The trust does not highlight, however, that some of the more than $1.2 billion it has handed out annually in recent years comes from investments in companies that contribute to the same problems the philanthropy wants to solve. Not long before the Hong Kong study was published, for example, the trust became an investor in Varo Energy, a company based in Cham, Switzerland, that sells fuel to shipping firms. One of Varo's main products is bunker fuel for marine engines: a cheap, sulfurous residue of oil refining that is a major source of soot pollution. Particulates billowing from ship stacks contribute to the premature deaths of 250,000 people annually, researchers estimate.
Wellcome’s financial interests have been published on the trust’s website and through financial regulatory filings but do not seem to have been disclosed as financial conflicts of interest in the context of Wellcome’s work on covid-19, even as they show that the trust is positioned to potentially gain from the pandemic financially.
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