The Wellcome Trust is to cut its research funding by 15 per cent next year following a dramatic fall in the value of its endowment.
In his first interview as director of the trust, Mark Walport said the cuts were necessary after a review of spending. In 2000, the trust's portfolio was valued at £15 billion, but this sank to£9.3 billion earlier this year.
Last year's figures show that Wellcome Trust, Britain's richest charity, funded about £400 million worth of research in UK universities. Next year, this figure is expected to drop to about £340 million.
But Professor Walport said the biomedical charity would not "take a back seat" in UK science and would still be a significant funder. "The endowment has got smaller, so we will spend less as we spend responsibly," he said.
Professor Walport said that grant applications would be looked at more carefully but the trust would honour all existing spending commitments and "no major schemes" would be stopped.
Professor Walport outlined serious concerns about the government's policy of concentrating research funding in a small number of top departments.
He said: "The trust funds on the basis of the strength of the applications received. It gets some good applications from people in departments that are not strong in the research assessment exercise."
Professor Walport, the former head of the division of medicine at Imperial College London, said his first move would be to restructure the grant awarding process.
"We will ask more about the outputs of the research and will look more at the track record of researchers than in the past. We want to stop reactive funding," he said.
• Science minister Lord Sainsbury has announced £90 million for research over the next six years to be spent on collaborative research and a network of micro and nanotechnology facilities to exploit the findings.
MPs immediately launched an inquiry into the government's support of the field and whether it was reacting quickly enough to keep the UK at the cutting edge of research.