Scientific endeavour needs more philanthropists

When there is no immediate commercial gain from such fundamental research, it is unrealistic to expect private companies to foot the bill

Share

The super-rich have never been short of things to spend their money on. Some like country estates, others prefer super-yachts. A few turn to serious philanthropy, perhaps in the hope that their legacy will do some lasting good in the world after they are gone.

Sir Henry Wellcome, who died in 1936, is just such a one. Indeed, he can be thanked for leaving behind one of the greatest science-funding organisations in Britain, if not the world, in the form of the Wellcome Trust, a not-for-profit charity which spends more than £600m a year on medical research – more than the corresponding spend of the UK Government.

The Trust’s latest scientific success comes out of its Sanger Institute in Cambridge, where the first human genome was decoded more than a decade ago. Sanger scientists have discovered the key protein of the mammalian egg cell which identifies and binds to the sperm cell during the first moments of conception – with important implications for human fertility.

Without Henry Wellcome’s stipulation that his fortune be used in “the advance of medical and scientific research to improve mankind’s wellbeing”, it is questionable whether this discovery, and the many others funded by the Wellcome Trust, would have been done in the UK.

It is a fact that basic science – so-called “blue skies” research – can only be paid for either by the state and its taxpayers, or by the generosity of seriously wealthy individuals. When there is no immediate commercial gain from such fundamental research, it is unrealistic to expect private companies to foot the bill.

Sir Henry – who was born in the wild American West and came to Britain to peddle medicines at the end of the 19th century – was a philanthropist in the great tradition of the United States, even though he died in his adopted country a proud knight of the realm. America has produced more than its fair share of philanthropists, from John D Rockefeller to Bill Gates, and Sir Henry was one of them.

Where, then, are the great British philanthropists who are prepared to leave a legacy of scientific achievements, rather than a portfolio of Mayfair properties? Science needs them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

 

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride