U.K. Charity to Boost Irish Biomedical Research

Ireland's ailing biomedical research effort got a major shot in the arm yesterday as the London-based Wellcome Trust, the world's richest biomedical charity, announced plans to award grants in Ireland totaling $1.58 million per year over the next 3 years. The new grants will be administered by Ireland's Health Research Board (HRB)--the country's primary conduit for state funding of biomedical research--and will be roughly matched by the Irish government. As a result, the agency's research spending will leap 70% to about $7.4 million per year.

This is good news for Irish researchers, because their nation's per capita spending on research and development is among the lowest in the industrialized world. For example, the U.K.'s Medical Research Council currently spends over $400 million on research each year. And despite the Irish government's promises over the past 2 years to bolster science funding, little extra cash has materialized until now. Indeed, the Wellcome Trust's generosity is apparently intended in part to help pry open Irish coffers. "There is an element of the carrot and the stick here," says HRB chief executive Vivian O'Gorman. "They want us to do our part to increase the budget."

Wellcome Trust officials have made it clear that grants down the road will depend on just such a show of good faith. At a press conference yesterday in Dublin, the trust's director, Bridget Ogilvie, declared that future funding of Irish research would "take account of the overall added scientific value of the matching fund agreement and the level and nature of the government's support for scientific research in Ireland."