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

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Clean energy should be our mission to the moon

Martin Rees
Angela Merkel and David Cameron say goodbye in the Bundeskanzleramt after their meeting in Berlin, Germany, 29 May 2015  

The complacency of Europhiles could lose them the referendum

Steve Richards
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral