Memorandum submitted by The Wellcome Trust
1. The Wellcome trust was established in
1936 on the death of Sir Henry Wellcome, whose will decreed that
the share capital of his pharmaceutical company, the Wellcome
Foundation, be vested in trustees to support research of a non-commercial
nature. Through the public floatation of the Wellcome Foundation
in 1986 and the acquisition of the Foundation by Glaxo in 1995,
the Wellcome Trust has become one of the world's largest charities,
with a current asset base of approximately £13 billion and
an annual spend in excess of £450 million.
2. The Trust's mission statement is to "foster
and promote research with the aim of improving human and animal
health". The Trust strives to achieve this goal by providing
individual researchers of the highest quality across the biomedical
sciences with the resources they need to pursue their subject
through research grants, infrastructure awards and training opportunities.
The Trust primarily funds research in the UK, but has a growing
number of international programmes, which aim to strengthen research
into major diseases in developing countries. In addition, through
its Medicine, Society and History programme, the Trust takes proactive
steps towards informing the public debate on the social and ethical
issues surrounding biomedical research and its medical application.
3. As a major funder of research in the
UK, the Wellcome Trust, welcomes the opportunity to participate
in this inquiry. We have responded only to those questions which
are relevant to our organisation.
4. The Wellcome Trust responded to Realising
Our Potential in 1993. Many of the issues raised by this White
Paper are still very relevant today: academic careers, technology
transfer, working in partnership and the public understanding
5. It is interesting to note that academic
careers, highlighted in Realising Our Potential as an area where
there were major concerns, remain so. This includes career structures,
participation of women in science and ensuring adequate provision
of people with craft and technical skills. We would be supportive
of initiatives building on the findings of recent reports (Dearing,
Bett, UK Life Sciences Committee), which again highlighted academic
careers as a continuing concern.
6. The Wellcome Trust, British Heart Foundation
and Medical Research Council worked in partnership to develop
foresight methodology. The results of this process were published
in 1995 as Foresight in Science: An Experiment in the Field of
Cardiovascular Research. The process of analysis, consultation
and wide debate provided strong, coherent signals to policy makers
on options for new initiatives that were likely to strengthen
the research field against a number of possible futures. Furthermore,
the techniques used provided a useful framework for developing
an evidenced-based approach to policy making and priority setting.
The main lessons learned through the Foresight process included
the importance of:
Consulting users of research outputs
early in the Foresight process as researchers and users have quite
different perspectives on the future of research fields;
Capturing minority (possibly maverick)
views as well as developing consensus view points;
Including consultation on non-scientific
and infrastructural priorities;
Identifying areas that could particularly
benefit from direct interaction between users and researchers.
7. A key theme of Realising Our Potential
was the development of stronger partnerships between the scientific
community and the research charities. The Trust has welcomed the
opportunity of working in partnership with government and would
seek to do so in the future where it believes real value is added
to the science base as a result. However, the Trust considers
that specific objectives must be established early on in any future
initiatives between government and research charities, and channels
of clear communication must be identified.
8. Government should consider the management
resource implications for major initiatives run through partnerships
and ensure they are adequately provided for.
9. An example of a successful public-private
partnership is the SNP Consortium. The Wellcome Trust has invested
£9 million into this £30 million collaboration with
10 pharmaceutical companies and leading academic centres. The
Consortium will build on the data emerging from the Human Genome
Project creating a high-quality map of genetic markers. Over the
next two years, the Consortium aims to identify 300,000 single
nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs or "snips") in the human
genome, variations that could be markers for a susceptibility
to diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes or cancer. The information
gathered by the SNP Consortium will be made publicly available
to researchers over the Internet. With the SNP map to hand, researchers
hope to be able to devise new medical treatments, and treatments
specifically tailored to individuals.
10. The Wellcome Trust supports the high
level principles outlined in the Government's recent consultation
on Science and Innovation. However, we have a number of areas
of concern where we would like to see the strategic objectives
broadened. We have explored these areas below and highlighted
additional features that we feel could be incorporated into any
future strategy for science, engineering and technology in the
Quality of life
11. The Trust believes these principles
to be narrowly focused on economic gain and improving the competitiveness
of the economy, but failing to explore ways to drive the exploitation
of research and technological development to improve health and
quality of life. For example, the principles fail to acknowledge
that in the UK there is a substantial portfolio of biomedical
and health services research, funded by both government and medical
research charities. The principles focus instead on research that
results in patents, and do not acknowledge the many other outcomes
12. The recent consultation on the Science
and Innovation Strategy highlights the need to improve the flow
of scientists to industry. We believe this should be expanded
to public life, as there is an increasing need for scientifically
literate people at all levels of society.
13. We believe a further objective of the
strategy should be the development of attractive career structures
for scientists within universities. People are at the heart of
developing a robust research base and we have concerns that many
aspects of scientific careers are not currently attractive (career
and pay structure). Evidence is emerging that many young scientists
give up research early in their careers. For example, we have
recently published our own reviews of Trust-funded PhD students
and a follow-up of previous cohorts. The first study found that
more than one third of final year students (on four-year PhD courses)
were fairly sure they would not remain in any area of scientific
research because of their concerns about the academic career structure
and pay. The cohort study shows that 81 per cent of Trust funded
PhD cohort took a first postdoctoral position, but only 46 per
cent remain in academic research after four to seven years.
Infrastructure and overheads
14. The Science and Innovation Strategy
consultation document fails to tackle the overwhelming need for
investment in infrastructure. We strongly believe that the science
base will be unable to meet the expectations of the Innovation
Strategy without a similar strategy for continuing investment
in university infrastructure, in the form of a rolling programme,
so that "catch-up" initiatives, like the Joint Infrastructure
Fund (JIF), become unnecessary. Substantial further funding is
needed to ensure the infrastructure of UK Universities enables
the UK to be competitive in research. As you will be aware, the
£750 million JIF fund has been heavily oversubscribed, having
so far received a demand of over £3.5 billion with a further
two funding rounds yet to come.
15. In addition to the physical infrastructure
there is an increasing need to address the requirement for specialised
technical staff essential for the operation of research in today's
science laboratories and the Trust would recommend the Committee
considers the recommendations made in the Royal Society report
"Technical and research support in the modern laboratory"
16. As a member of the Association of Medical
Research Charities we believe that the core funding of infrastructure
(capital for buildings) and the many other indirect costs of research
(general upkeep or running costs of the basic fabric and support
services, including libraries, personnel departments, etc) is
primarily the role of the Government through university funding.
We will continue to meet the direct costs of research through
the many types of grants funded following our normal peer review
process. In addition to the salaries of over 4,000 researchers,
such grants also fund equipment, building, research consumables,
travel costs and many other items. The Trust provides the financial
resources to cover the direct costs of research as well as salaries.
Additionally, the Trust also permits the researchers it funds
to spend up to 30 per cent of their time on teaching and administration.
We urge that there be greater transparency on the roles of the
different funding parties involved.
17. We believe the question on the best
methods for stimulating increased knowledge transfer is clearly
a difficult, yet important one. We suggest that it might be useful
for the Government to consider how it could help to stimulate
greater collaboration and joint working amongst the individual
technology transfer units within universities to enhance commercial
exploitation of research. This type of joint working is clearly
possible as evidenced by the development of consortia to exploit
their intellectual property through the University Challenge Fund
(for example, the White Rose Biotechnology Consortium, a joint
venture of the Universities of Leeds, York and Sheffield).
18. We would also suggest that it would
be helpful if there were a clear strategy or framework which set
the variety of funding schemes for technology transfer in context.
This would also assist in comparative evaluation and should show
where the gaps exist. Currently, there are many different government
technology transfer schemes, managed out of a range of different
departments and agencies, leading to confusion and duplication.
19. The Wellcome Trust has put forward an
innovative proposal to improve the interface between academia
and industry at the Trust's Human Genome Campus at Hixton Hall,
Cambridge. Planning permission has been refused for this development,
but we are currently discussing a way forward for the future of
this initiative with South Cambridgeshire District Council.
20. We would like to suggest other innovative
ways of exploiting outputs of research that aims to improve quality
of life, beyond more traditional technology schemes. For example,
the Cochrane Collaboration works to ensure that health care decisions
in the GPs surgery, at the hospital bedside and organisational
level are based on the best available evidence.
21. We believe that regional issues are
for government and agree with the Science and Innovation Strategy
that regional networks should be promoted, as long as decisions
are based on scientific excellence and that scientific quality
is not reduced in the long term.
Improving Public Confidence
22. One objective of the Science and Innovation
Strategy aims to improve public confidence by creating greater
transparency in the regulation of science. We strongly support
improving public confidence in science, however, we question whether
government is the best body to undertake this? The events of the
past few years (BSE; GM crops; cloning; biotechnology patents)
show that when an issue does attract public attention, the public
clearly does not believe that it has enough knowledge of, or trust
in the government system. Part of the problem may be that the
public does not feel that non-technical issuesmatters of
moral and social valuesare taken sufficiently into account
compared with the "scientific" issues; part may be a
cynicism that, when economic matters are at stake, commercial
interest will always win out over other considerations; part may
also be that people feel they have no way of influencing the decision-making
process. These are all properly matters of politics, not science
and technology, and it is the responsibility of government, in
consultation with all stakeholders, to devise and implement new
institutions of popular representation if it should come to believe
that the existing ones are deficient.
23. The Science and Innovation Strategy
is focused very much on internal government transparency, we believe
that a much broader view is needed and would like to see the establishment
of a strategy for the public understanding of science, bringing
together all interested parties, to counteract the increasingly
anti-science culture in the UK. This process should not be public
led, but involve all interested stakeholders.
24. The Wellcome Trust support Sir Robert
May's guidelines for the use of scientific advice in policy making.