Wellcome targets $8B raise in weeks to fix COVID-19 funding gap

The atrium of the Wellcome Trust's headquarters
The atrium of the Wellcome Trust's headquarters (Matt From London/CC BY 2.0)

Wellcome is calling on businesses to invest in an $8 billion (€7 billion) fund focused on reducing cases of COVID-19 to zero as soon as possible. Almost half the money is earmarked for the development of drugs and vaccines that Wellcome sees as the “world’s best exit strategy” from the pandemic.

Bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator have already committed more than $1 billion to COVID-19. Large and small biopharma companies alike are pumping more cash into the fight, but, even so, Wellcome thinks there is an “urgent funding shortfall.”

Wellcome wants the private sector to address that funding shortfall. The call for cash is aimed at all types of companies, not specifically biopharma businesses, reflecting Wellcome’s belief that industry in general will benefit when we have the tools to lift lockdown measures. That pitch is summed up in the claim that giving to the fund “is the best investment your business can make today.”

“We want business leaders to give a small proportion of the money they are dedicating to coping with this crisis, to solving it. We hope that governments will follow their example. Otherwise, this is a global issue that will continue to plague the world—and businesses—for months, if not years, to come,” Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome, said in a statement. 

If Wellcome hits its fundraising target, it plans to spend $2 billion on vaccine development and a further $1.5 billion on advancing therapeutics. The remaining $4.5 billion will support diagnostics, manufacturing and other tasks Wellcome thinks will help the world eradicate COVID-19. Wellcome highlighted CEPI and the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator among the groups that need more cash. 

According to Wellcome, the money is needed urgently. Citing an assessment by WHO’s Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, Wellcome said $8 billion is needed by the end of April. Failure to get the money to where it is needed will cause “crucial opportunities to accelerate the solution to this crisis” to be missed. 

Wellcome’s assessment of the situation chimes with views recently expressed by Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner who is now one of the most prominent voices in the discussion about how to get a lid on COVID-19. Gottlieb sees a narrow window of opportunity in which to get medicines to market before a possible second spike in COVID-19 cases in the fall. 

Given the public health and economic consequences of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, Gottlieb thinks it is worth doing “whatever it takes” to get a drug to market in the summer. Wellcome is hoping business leaders share that sense of urgency and funnel money into its $8 billion fund.