The Wellcome Trust, Britain’s biggest charity, is ramping up spending on science research to £16bn over the next 10 years, with a focus on funding next-generation Covid-19 vaccines, after it reaped the highest investment returns in a quarter of a century.
Wellcome said it was making its biggest funding commitment to science and health in its 85-year history. It was created by the will of the pharmaceuticals entrepreneur Sir Henry Wellcome in 1936. The £16bn promise comes after it spent more than £9bn on research grants and other charitable activities over the past decade, including £1.2bn last year alone.
The trust made a 34.5% return in the year to 30 September on its investment portfolio, which is now worth £38.2bn, about £10bn more than a year ago. This is its best performance since it was created in its present form as an independent charitable foundation in 1995, when Wellcome plc was sold off to the drugmaker Glaxo, which later became GlaxoSmithKline.
One of Wellcome’s top investment picks was DoorDash, a US-based food delivery business, which doubled in price since its stock market flotation in December.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of Wellcome and a former member of the government’s Sage advisory committee, said these investment returns marked “a step-change in Wellcome’s ability to fund and support new discoveries in science and health, and help solve three of the great challenges of the 21st century: climate change, infectious diseases and mental health”.
“With plans to spend £16bn on our mission over the next decade, we will be increasing our spending from the previous decade by more than 50%,” he added.
Farrar said some of this would go towards funding second- and third-generation Covid-19 vaccines as part of Wellcome’s infectious diseases programme, as the virus becomes endemic.
The trust’s annual report showed that pay packets surged at its investment team after the record returns. Nick Moakes, the chief investment officer, was awarded £7.9m last year while Peter Pereira Gray, the chief executive of the investment division, received a £7.8m package. The packages include long-term bonuses that have not been paid yet. The previous year, they were awarded £4.6m and £4.5m, respectively.
Wellcome said the pay packages were considerably less than what it would pay an outside firm of investment managers.
In comparison, Farrar was paid £515,216 last year, up from £483,788 in 2020. The executive leadership team received £2.5m in pay, lower than the 2020 figure of £3.1m.
Wellcome said it would spend more on cross-sector collaborations such as the public-private Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), co-founded by Wellcome in 2017, which has brought together various parties to develop and fairly distribute Covid-19 vaccines. Wellcome also helped fund the Covid vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
As part of its £150m commitment to fight the pandemic, the charity has supported genomics researchers to keep up with the virus. The Wellcome Sanger Institute was at one point responsible for half of the world’s Covid-19 sequencing.
Julia Gillard, the chair of the Wellcome Trust, said: “The exceptional long-term performance of the investment portfolio has provided us with the means to increase spending commitments significantly at a time when the mission has never been more important.”
While Wellcome made spectacular returns from some investments, Syncona, a UK-listed life sciences firm founded by the trust in 2012, had a very disappointing year, with the share price falling by nearly a third.