In 2011, the Wellcome Trust will be 75 yearsold. We usually ocus on our currentactivities and uture plans, so this is arereshing opportunity or us to reect onthe Trust’s history and evolution into whatit is today. It is a ascinating story, o how acharitable oundation with only one asset– Sir Henry Wellcome’s pharmaceuticalcompany, which was insolvent by 1947– came to be ully independent and able totake a world-leading role in unding research.The story o the origin o the Trust is wellknown. On Wellcome’s death in 1936, theshare capital o his company, the WellcomeFoundation Limited, was vested in theWellcome Trust. Income rom the capitalwould be used to advance medical researchand understanding o its history. AsWellcome pointed out in his will, “Withthe enormous possibility o developmentin chemistry, bacteriology, pharmacy andallied sciences…there are likely to be vastfelds opened or productive enterprise orcenturies to come.”Less well known are the struggles o the Trust’s early years. So complex wereWellcome’s aairs and diverse enterprises– and the need to pay enormous estateduties – that the Trust’s income was airlylow in its frst 20 years, and its totalcharitable expenditure or the periodwas £1.2 million. The company struggledthrough World War II and the demandso postwar reorganisation.During the 1950s and 1960s, the Trust’sunding tended to ocus on buildings,laboratories and equipment – notablyelectron microscopes. From the mid-1960s,it began to ocus more on personal grantsto individual scientists, and its undinggrew markedly – as between 1966 and 1986,annual sales o the Wellcome Foundationgrew rom £32m to over £500m. Most o this growth was owing to the astonishingsuccess o George Hitchings and GertrudeElion, who worked or over 30 years at theWellcome Research Laboratories in NorthCarolina. They pioneered ‘rational drugdesign’ – investigating specifc moleculartargets or potential drugs – and theirachievements included the frst evertreatment or leukaemia and the frstimmunosuppressive agent, used or organtransplants. Their work was rewarded withthe 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiologyor Medicine.It is rare or an organisation to have asingle transormative moment. But theTrust had one in February 1986, when itoated the Wellcome Foundation on thestock market. Over the next 15 years, it soldall the shares and became ullyindependent. With the proceeds o thesales, it could diversiy its assets, allowingextraordinary growth. In 1988 its asset basewas £3.4 billion; today it is around £13bn.Annual spending on research was on average£28m in the 1980s; today, it is around £600m– a more than 20-old increase.So these are the bare bones o the story,but what they do not show are thepersonalities that the Trust has workedwith. For we have been privileged to beassociated with and to support the worko many superb scientists. Henry Foy, theTrust’s frst scientifc employee, studiedmalaria in Greece in the 1930s – and wascaptured by bandits at one point whilecollecting mosquitoes – then moved toKenya. His research team eventuallyevolved into our Major OverseasProgramme in Kenya. The sheep studieso Graham ‘Mont’ Liggins led to the nowstandard treatment o giving steroids towomen in premature labour, to help thelungs o preterm babies. Ralph Lainson,unded by us since 1964, has transormedour understanding o leishmaniasis inSouth America. Sir John Sulston led theUK contributions to the Human GenomeProject. Nick White’s pioneering studies o the drug artemisinin have led to its wordwideadoption in treatment or malaria.We plan a range o activities andpublications or 2011 to mark thisanniversary and expand upon some o these individual stories, and I hope thatyou will join with us in celebrating 75extraordinary years.
News | Issue 65
Sir Mark WalportDirector o the Wellcome Trust
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