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Wellcome switch to overseas research

Hopes that the Wellcome Trust would spend its newly boosted income on medical research in the United Kingdom have faltered with the publication of its new policy statement, in which it emphasises that it will increasingly fund international research.

The trust has criticised the country's university infrastructure, saying that it is "seriously undermining the capacity for the UK to support internationally competitive scientists".

The Wellcome Trust, which has extended its lead as the world's richest charity with the sale of its shares in the drug company Wellcome to Glaxo, says that its income is set to reach Pounds 300 million this year, up from Pounds 250 million in 1994.

It announced last week that it will spend Pounds 50 million over five years on research into the human population explosion. It will also review its international programme because it says that it recognises "the rapidly developing needs and opportunities for science overseas".

The trust said: "Research has always been conducted at an international level, and there is now an increasing tendency for top-class science to ignore geographical boundaries. By any measure, the UK produces less than 10 per cent of the world's biomedical research outcomes and although there are great scientific strengths in the UK, it cannot be a leader in all fields.

"Equally, many of the world's most urgent health problems are to be found in developing countries, and progress in these areas can only be made through research based in those countries."

In its criticisms of the university infrastructure, the trust said that it had put Pounds 83 million into buildings associated with trust-funded research projects in universities since 1992. "The UK's science base in biomedicine has traditionally been internationally competitive, but the more recent progressive decline in infrastructural support for universities is a matter for concern."

But universities will still receive most of its funding: "In the UK, the trust's commitment will be to funding through the university system," it says.

The Medical Research Council, however, will probably remain the largest funder of UK medical research because the Wellcome Trust has other commitments, such as to the history of medicine, science policy research and public understanding of science. The MRC spent Pounds 246 million on medical research last year. The trust spent Pounds 156 million this year.

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