Press release

Wellcome Trust charitable expenditure tops £10 billion since the 1980s

As its Director, Sir Mark Walport, steps down, the Wellcome Trust has revealed that the total amount of charitable expenditure made by the Trust since the 1980s - when it took on its modern form and began to diversify its investment assets - reached £10.1 billion by the end of the latest financial year. Of this, around £5.6 billion has been spent during Sir Mark’s time in office.

The Wellcome Trust was established in 1936 in the will of Sir Henry Wellcome, a pharmaceutical pioneer, progressive industrialist, philanthropist and archaeologist. The Trustees began work in 1937 with £73 048 in the deposit account.

Between 1936 and 1986, the Wellcome Trust was the sole owner of the Wellcome Foundation, Henry Wellcome's drug company. In 1986, however, the Trust began floating shares in the Wellcome Foundation and used the proceeds to diversify its assets. This has helped the Trust grow to become one of the world's largest charitable foundations, with assets of £14.5 billion (September 2012).

The Trust made its first awards in 1938 to Otto Loewi, who had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1936 for his discovery of acetylcholine and its physiological actions, and to Henry Foy and Athena Kondi for their work tackling malaria at the Wellcome Trust Research Laboratories in Thessaloniki, Greece. However, it was not until the mid-1980s that its spending became significant, thanks to its share floatation.

From 1 October 1985 until the end of September 2012, the Trust spent £10.1 billion. It now spends around £650 million each year to achieve extraordinary improvements in human and animal health and expects to spend £3.5 billion over the next five years.

The Trust focuses on addressing the most pressing and fundamental problems in biology and medicine with research into five major challenges addressing how genes affect health, how the brain functions, new ways to tackle infectious disease, how the body develops and ages, and how environment and nutrition affect health at a global level.

Sir William Castell, Chairman of the Wellcome Trust, says: "Sir Henry Wellcome was a true visionary when he laid the foundations for establishing the Wellcome Trust. Yet even he could not have foreseen how, over the course of the following decades, through strong leadership, careful management and dedicated staff, the Trust has grown to become one of the most influential scientific and medical organisations in the world. It is a testament to the directorship of Mark Walport that much of this growth and influence has occurred during his tenure.

"Over the past 77 years, Sir Henry's legacy has supported researchers across the world, enabling them to greatly advance our knowledge of how the body works and how diseases arise. We are now in a stronger position than ever as we move forward, allowing us to make a real difference to people's lives."

Sir Mark will step down as Director at the end of March 2013 and will become the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser on April 1. Dr Ted Bianco, the Trust's Director of Technology Transfer, will take over as Acting Director on 15 March.

Wellcome Trust funding has enabled breakthroughs that have transformed our understanding of the biology underpinning health and disease and of how we treat disease. For example:

  • The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute led the UK arm of the Human Genome Project - to decipher the 'book of life' - and ensured all data from the project were made public.
  • Wellcome Trust researchers in Thailand and Vietnam led the work on artemisinin derivatives that enabled the introduction of artemisinin combination therapy, now the frontline treatment recommended by the World Health Organization for uncomplicated malaria. Their work also led the way for artesunate to be recommended by the WHO as first-line treatment in the management of severe falciparum malaria in African children, who are the most affected victims of this parasite in the world, as well as for severe malaria in all patients in low transmission areas.
  • Key discoveries from the Cancer Genome Project have led to breakthroughs in how cancers such as malignant melanomas are treated.
  • Researchers at the University of Oxford pioneered the use of a 'talking therapy' for bulimia nervosa, a severe eating disorder. This was the first psychological intervention to be recognised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as the leading treatment for a clinical condition and recommended for use in the NHS.
  • Wellcome Trust funding enabled the research that developed the techniques leading to the first ever successful transplant of a larynx, trachea and thyroid in 2010, enabling a Californian woman to speak for the first time in 11 years.
  • Wellcome Collection, the free visitor destination for the incurably curious, opened in London in 2007, exploring the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. It welcomes more than 400 000 visitors a year to its critically acclaimed exhibitions and collections, lively public events, conference centre and the world-renowned Wellcome Library. Its overwhelming success has led to a major planned development project to transform its spaces.