Director's update: sustaining a historically high spending level for Wellcome

In the next year, Wellcome will support more science, research and public engagement than ever before, spending over £1 billion on the people, places and projects that advance our mission of improving health by helping great ideas to thrive. 

It’s remarkable to think that the amount Wellcome spends each year has doubled in the past decade alone. This impressive expansion of our resources has been made possible by the exceptional long-term performance of our investment portfolio, managed by our own world-class Investments team.

But we know all too well that the value of investments can go down as well as up. When this happened to us in the past, the way we calculated our spending – based on the recent market value of our investments – meant we were forced to make abrupt cuts to some programmes. So while I am delighted we have increased our funding to historically high levels, we have also been considering how to protect our support for science and research against market volatility.

This year, then, we are changing the way we think about our budgets.

First, we are gathering together our core activities across Science, Innovations and Culture & Society, and providing our highest ever level of support for them, underwritten for at least the next five years. We’re calling this our Primary Fund.

At £903 million a year, a sum we intend to increase with inflation year on year, the Primary Fund broadly covers the work we support through the Advancing Ideas section of our strategic approach. That includes all our response-mode funding for science, from Seed Awards to Senior Fellowships, as well as Wellcome Centres, our Africa and Asia programmes and the Sanger and Crick Institutes. It covers support for medical innovation, humanities and social science, education and public engagement. It also includes many of our own initiatives, such as Wellcome Collection.

It does not include the priority areas we’ve identified, broadly through the Seizing Opportunities and Driving Reform sections of our strategic approach. These will be funded from a separate budget that we are calling our Reserve Fund.

The Reserve Fund has been set up to support our six current priority areas, with more available for a small number of further priority areas or similarly ambitious programmes. These will be initiated only if we decide Wellcome has the capacity to drive significant progress or a change in science or society within five to ten years. We will add to the Reserve Fund, but only if our investments have performed sufficiently strongly that the Primary Fund is secure and our underlying investment base remains solid.

It’s important to note that the Primary Fund and Reserve Fund are not funding streams that can be applied for. They are simply new ways for Wellcome to manage and allocate our resources in the best way to achieve our mission. If you have a great idea in biomedical science, population health, applied research, or in any of the other areas we fund, I urge you to apply to one of our funding schemes in exactly the same way as before.

Separating out our Advancing Ideas support in this way ensures that funding for this critical foundation of Wellcome’s mission is protected, stable and sustainable. We can maintain this level of spending under most financial scenarios, so the Primary Fund budget will not fluctuate from year to year. My colleagues in our Science, Innovations and Culture & Society teams will be able to plan better and develop their strategies and priorities knowing well in advance how much they have available to commit to spending each year.

It also ensures that the different sections in our strategic approach are complementary, not competitive. There are certainly areas in science and health research that can be transformed with the right leadership and resource – I want Wellcome to be able to provide that without drawing resources away from our core work, which is supporting curious, passionate people to explore great ideas, every step of the way from discovery and understanding to improving health.