Wellcome Trust director takes World Health Organization role

Infectious disease specialist who came to national prominence during Covid will become WHO chief scientist

December 13, 2022

The Wellcome Trust’s director, Sir Jeremy Farrar, is to take up the role of chief scientist at the World Health Organization next year.

Sir Jeremy, an infectious disease specialist who became one of the UK’s most high-profile scientists during the Covid pandemic, is stepping down towards the end of his second five-year term at Wellcome, having led the medical charity since 2013.

He will be replaced at Wellcome on an interim basis by Paul Schreier, Wellcome’s chief operating officer and a former deputy vice-chancellor at Macquarie University in Australia, at the end of February. A global search for the permanent chief executive began earlier this year.

Sir Jeremy, a member of the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), whose recent memoir Spike: The Virus vs the People criticised decision-making in Downing Street at the early stages of the pandemic, was responsible for launching Wellcome’s new strategy in 2020.

This will focus the charity’s spending – which will be about £1.6 billion next year – on funding discovery research projects to transform understanding of life, health and well-being, and supporting science-based solutions to address three of the most urgent health challenges facing us all: infectious disease, mental health problems, and the effects of climate change on health.

During Sir Jeremy’s time in office, Wellcome has also led innovations to promote healthy research culture, including the creation of longer career development “discovery” awards which will support individuals and teams for up to eight years, and the introduction of open access publishing mandates.

Since Sir Jeremy joined Wellcome in 2013, the charitable foundation’s annual spending on its mission has almost doubled, rising from £726 million to about £1.6 billion in the next financial year, while its endowment has grown from £15 billion to £38 billion.

Julia Gillard, the charity’s chair, praised Sir Jeremy’s “outstanding contribution to Wellcome and our mission to improve health and save lives around the world”.

“We are delighted that the global health and science community will continue to benefit from his expertise and wisdom in his new role at the World Health Organization,” said the former prime minister of Australia.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Sir Jeremy led Wellcome’s work to advocate for rapid investment in research on testing, treatments and vaccines, and to ensure that everyone, everywhere benefits equitably from these advances.

Commenting on his departure, Sir Jeremy said he took “enormous pride in what we have achieved together – and do so knowing Wellcome’s mission to improve health has never been more focused in the hands of the amazing teams that make Wellcome what it is today”.

“We are living through fragile and uncertain times, with huge inequities to address. But we have also seen breathtaking and life-changing advances in science and health, and achieved critical progress in the global collaboration that makes sure these are brought to bear for the most benefit for the maximum number of people,” he said.


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