This is the second instalment of a four-part investigation.
THE influence of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (GF) extends right into the heart of the British medical and science establishment. It has been funding British companies, charities, universities and public bodies for almost 25 years.
My research offers only a snapshot of the financing GF has provided them. Some have been paid millions of pounds to research and develop vaccines, others to facilitate ‘health systems’ delivery.
Their influence works through the many interconnections that exist between certain private and public funding bodies, industry companies, public health officials and scientific advisory groups involved in, or party to, the Government’s responses to Covid-19.
Best known of the latter is the publicly-funded Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). Its status is not clear – though meant only to be activated short term in emergency, it has become a de facto standing body.
SAGE itself draws on a number of other standing ‘expert’ groups with crossover membership, including the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), advising the Government on threats posed by new respiratory viruses, and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). Two SAGE members are on NERVTAG. Several members of SAGE are also part of a private initiative calling itself Independent Sage, set up to act as scientific advisers to the Government, and one of whom is also on the JCVI.
Many members of these groups are connected to, or funded directly or indirectly by, the GF.
One such connection is through GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) a British pharmaceutical company, dating back to 1715 which works closely with GF. It helps finance COVAX a private global health partnership which promotes immunisation in poor countries.
Last March, GSK licensed a new tuberculosis vaccine to the GF Medical Research Institute. The amount they were paid is not documented. Currently, GSK is manufacturing a Covid-19 vaccine called Novavax at its Barnard Castle site. The Government bought 60 million doses of Novavax in advance.
GSK has significant connections with the scientists on SAGE (whose advice has driven the Government’s stringent Lockdown and social distancing policies) listed here. It is hard from this not to see significant conflict of interest, or how their advice to the Government can be entirely dispassionate.
Professor John Edmunds’s partner was an employee until May 2020. Professor Jonathan Van Tam is a consultant, Professor Andrew Morris is a shareholder and Sir Patrick Vallance had shares in GSK until March 2021. Professor Charlotte Deane is a recipient of their research funding.
The Wellcome Trust, a British foundation which invests in research and advocacy programmes, is another body through which the influence of the GF extends. It has a £29.1billion investment fund and is the second-largest grant-giving organisation in the world after the GF. Matching the GF, it invested 50 million dollars in the Gavi-run Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator (CTA), set up last March to research and develop Covid-19 vaccines.
The Wellcome Trust CEO, Paul Schreier, recently insisted that the 300million dollars invested so far in the CTA isn’t enough and that 7.2billion dollars is needed to ensure the project remains viable.
Despite its already huge investment fund, the Wellcome Trust has received funds from the GF. Between 2014 and 2016, the GF granted it 613,380 dollars for research and the study of enteric and diarrheal diseases.
As with GSK, many SAGE members had, or have, connections with the Wellcome Trust. Professor Sir Mark Walport is a previous director, while Sir Jeremy Farrar is the current director. He is also an adviser to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the Word Health Organisation.
Professor Michael Parker is the director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities and has research funding for the Global Health Bioethics run by the Wellcome Trust in Africa and Asia.
Professor Parker has also received funding for Epidemics Ethics, a collaboration between the Wellcome Trust and the WHO, and a collaboration on medical ethics between the Wellcome Trust and Johns Hopkins University in the US. He is also a member of the WHO Ethics Working Group on 2019-nCoV (coronavirus).
Professor Yvonne Doyle is a co-applicant and collaborator on a Wellcome Trust award called Pathways to Healthy Cities. Professor Sharon Peacockis a recipient of a research funding grant called the Collaborative Award (2019 – 2024) and the Health Innovation Challenge Fund (2014 – 2021).
Professor Andrew Rambaut received a research grant for viral genome sequencing, while Sir Venki Ramakrishnan is a recipient of the Research Investigator Award.
Professor Russell Viner, Dr Laura Merson and Professor Dame Linda Partridge have also received research funding from the Wellcome Trust.
Professor Andrew Morris is a member of the Wellcome/MRC/ESRC/Cancer Research UK Expert Advisory Group on Data Access.
Other members of SAGE who have a significant interest in the Wellcome Trust include Professor Susan Michie. A member of both SAGE and Independent Sage, she received funding from the Wellcome Trust for research into the role of artificial intelligence in public health decision-making.
Professor Karl Friston, another Independent Sage member, is a Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow.
As well as funding private science, medical companies and medical philanthropy in Britain, the GF also collaborates with UK Government’s UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). It started in 2018 with a budget of £6billion to fund science and research in the UK.
Last September it was involved in setting up the Oxford RECOVERY trial to research an antiviral called REGN-COV2 and its effects on Covid-19. Peter Horby (of SAGE) is the chief investigator. UKRI joined with the GF and Wellcome Trust in funding this initiative. The amount is not specified.
Last February, UKRI donated £20million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the partially GF-funded global initiative, matching the Government’s contribution for Covid-19 research.
Several SAGE members are connected to UKRI.
Professor Sir Mark Walport, who was UKRI chief executive of until 2020.
Professor Lucy Yardley is a Principal Investigator and Co-Investigator, Professor Phil Bly is a Co-Investigator, and Mr Allan Bennett is a Principal Investigator.
Professor Neil Ferguson is a Co-Investigator. He is also the co-founder of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis (GIDA) that was granted £500,000 from UKRI to work on Covid-19 modelling when the pandemic began. MRC GIDA works closely with the GF and Gavi.
Professor Guy Poppy is the Director of UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund, while Professor Dame Anne Johnson is a Co-investigator and Chair of a UKRI scientific advisory group.
Professor Sir Ian Diamond is a board member, Dr James Rubin a grant recipient and a consultant to UKRI, and Professor Cath Noakes is a member. Professor Sheila Rowan is a grant holder and council member of UKRI.
Professors Sharon Peacock, Peter Horby, Julia Gog, Andrew Hayward, Timothy Sharpe, Deborah Dunn-Walters, Vittal Katikireddi, Janet Lord and Dr Declan T Bradley are all recipients of research funding from UKRI.
It seems that few individuals advising the Government are outside this ‘club’ or without trails leading back to GF.
Public Health England (PHE), the Government’s health watchdog, is in direct receipt of GF funding. Between 2010 and 2015, it received 12million dollars, including 2.3 million dollars in 2012, to improve delivery of health systems.
In 2013, the GF awarded PHE 1.7million dollars to research measles and tetanus testing, and in 2015, 500,076 dollars to fund research into tuberculosis.
SAGE members connected to PHE include Dr James Rubin a consultant to PHE, Professor Brooke Rogers – who is a member – Dr Ian Hall, who has an honorary contract, and Dr Jenny Harries.
This close network of connections between the GF and British companies, foundations, Government agencies and advisors suggests an unacceptable level of influence as well as near-institutionalised conflicts of interest. This cannot be in the public interest or in that of dispassionate medical and public health research and advice.
In Part Three, I will show how these tentacles of influence and power extend into British universities.