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Wellcome Trust calls on businesses to donate $8bn for COVID-19 research

The Wellcome Trust said that securing the $8bn funding now was 'the world’s best exit strategy' for fighting the coronavirus. (Getty)

London-based medical research charity The Wellcome Trust is urging big businesses to donate $8bn (£6.4bn) for research into developing diagnostic tests, therapies and vaccines in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

The appeal is aimed at the private sector and has launched with the message that providing funding now “is the best investment your business can make today.”

It is asking CEOs of multinational companies to join the coalition and save lives by supporting scientists who are already working to develop vaccines, test existing drugs, and improve diagnostic tests, but are rapidly running out of funding.

The initiative is called COVID-Zero because by securing the funding, it aims to achieve zero deaths, zero new cases, and zero lockdowns as quickly as possible.

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The Wellcome Trust said that securing this funding now was “the world’s best exit strategy” for fighting the coronavirus and would save lives, protect jobs and set the global economy going again faster than any other option.

The initial figure of $8bn has been identified by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, an independent body convened by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank. 

Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome, said CEOs need to move fast to donate funds towards solving the problem, as well as handling the current impact of coronavirus. “Businesses and governments are rightly concerned with tackling immediate concerns — how to support staff, keep trading and bolster economies. But we also need a way out of this pandemic as fast as possible.

“Drugs, vaccines and rapid diagnostics are the only way we have of saving lives, bringing this pandemic to an end and preventing it reappearing. This is the only exit strategy — but we do not have the funding we need to execute it.”

How would $8bn be spent? (The Wellcome Trust)

Farrar said that if businesses and governments do not step up to provide funds now, COVID-19 and the economic damage caused by lockdowns across the globe “will continue to plague the world — and businesses — for months, if not years, to come.”

The $8bn would go to organisations coordinating the global research and development (R&D) response to the coronavirus pandemic: vaccine development charity Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, and The Foundation for New Innovative Diagnostics (FIND). It would also go to the World Health Organisation Solidarity Fund, to ensure new innovations reach the people who need them the most, Wellcome said.

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The breakdown is as follows:

  • $1.25bn – fund the WHO to support the most vulnerable countries

  • $3bn – vaccines R&D for COVID-19 ($2bn), plus manufacturing and delivery ($1bn)

  • $2.25bn – therapeutics R&D for COVID-19 plus manufacturing and delivery

  • $0.75bn – diagnostics R&D for COVID-19 plus manufacturing and delivery

  • $0.75bn – stockpile of COVID-19 essential PPE, diagnostics, treatments and vaccines

Pop singer Madonna, Facebook founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and Mastercard have already promised millions to the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, which The Wellcome Trust launched in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and forms part of the new COVID-Zero initiative.

Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, the global alliance leading efforts to swiftly advance the development of COVID-19 vaccines, said: “The spread of COVID-19 is a global humanitarian and economic crisis.

“While a range of social distancing measures have been implemented in countries and regions across the world, the development of vaccines, treatments and diagnostics is the most effective way to permanently halt the global spread of the disease.

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“We are all in this together — all of us facing this same threat — and it’s down to all of us to influence what happens next. At this pivotal moment we urge the business sector to join governments and philanthropies in offering vital financial support to science, which is the only way to bring this pandemic to an end.”