Wellcome’s latest Annual Report and Financial Statements, published today, details the returns on our investments and our income and expenditure. It also highlights some of the activities we have supported as a politically and financially independent foundation that exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive.
For example, 2018 was the centenary of the flu pandemic that is thought to have infected a third of the world’s population, killing at least 50 million people. Wellcome created Contagious Cities, an international cultural project in New York, Hong Kong and Geneva, to spark and support local conversations about the global challenges of preparing for epidemics. This is one way we help everyone to get involved with science and health research.
It was also 25 years since the founding of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, famous for sequencing a third of the Human Genome Project. Today, it has developed into a world-leading hub for genomic science, and celebrated its anniversary by sequencing 25 new genomes of species in the UK, including five voted for by the public. Through our other funding schemes, we support thousands of researchers around the world.
And October 2018 marked five years since Jeremy Farrar became Director of Wellcome. In March 2018, he was reappointed for a further five years by the Board of Governors, having already overseen significant changes in Wellcome’s scale and ambition.
In the Annual Report, Jeremy writes: "Within Wellcome, we have become more comfortable with challenging ourselves, being challenged by others, and experimenting with bold new ideas, whether they come from us, the communities we work with, or wider society. That spirit of innovation is now a defining quality of everything we do."
In 2017/18, Wellcome spent £723 million on charitable activities. This is notably less than last year, when we spent £1,221m, because a number of large funding commitments to multi-year programmes and our priority areas happened to fall in 2016/17 and none on that scale this year. Our long-term spending plans have not changed and we still expect to spend at least £5 billion over the five years to 2022.
Looking ahead, we are not complacent that the extraordinary investment returns of recent years will be replicated. But Wellcome will always be wholly committed to funding excellent discovery research across biology, medicine, population health, the humanities and social science.
We also encourage medical innovation and public engagement, and we campaign for better science, such as continuing to engage this year with the UK government and EU negotiators in discussions about the future of research post-Brexit.
The average spend on these activities will be around £900m a year, rising with inflation, until at least 2022.
Subject to the performance of our investments, we will balance these core activities with additional funding for large-scale initiatives like our priority areas. This year, we have been able to allocate an extra £200m for such activities in the future, including a new priority area in mental health.
Wellcome’s priority areas allow us to take on big health challenges, making concerted interventions to accelerate change in science, medicine or society so that more ideas can fulfil their potential to improve health. Our vision for mental health is to unite psychologists and neuroscientists, researchers and clinicians in a new ‘super-discipline’ of mental health sciences. With common goals and approaches, we hope to reinvigorate the development of new and existing treatments for depression and anxiety in particular.
As in all the areas Wellcome works in, we aim to think big, take risks, and drive change, all towards our mission of improving health.