A Powerhouse Alliance: When the World's Two Largest Foundations Join Forces

Everyone knows how big and important the Gates Foundation is. But if you're a nonprofit type focused on U.S. issues, chances are that you don't know much about the Wellcome Trust. Based in the U.K. and founded with a pharmaceutical fortune, it's the second-largest foundation in the world, with assets around $25 billion. 

Gates and Wellcome aren't just unique giants, looming far above most other large foundations in their grantmaking scale. They also have some important things in common. Wellcome is focused on health and biomedical research, doing lots of work to fight infectious diseases, which is a big part of Gates's mandate as well.

Another commonality: Both funders mix grantmaking and program-related investments to move the dial on the issues they care about. So it's not surprising that we often see these two foundations collaborating or swinging behind the same ambitious projects. 

One reason that the coordinated funding of this duo is so important is because efforts to find new vaccinations or treatments to the dread diseases that affect the world's poor is such expensive work. 

If you want to see this partnership in action, check out how both Gates and Wellcome have backed Kymab, a U.K.-based therapeutic antibody company. Kymab recently received a $9 million grant from Gates to help “accelerate the development of novel vaccines and therapeutics for infectious diseases, including HIV.” The three-year research and development grant will help Kymab improve its Kymouse antibody platform, described as a “groundbreaking transgenic mouse platform,” with a “library of 100-trillion antibodies and natural ability to optimize leads in vivo.”

This is only the second grant Gates has awarded to the company. Prior to the $9 million give, Gates awarded Kymab a two-year, $1.5 million grant to support its antibody research and development work related to pneumonia and whooping cough. A total of $10.5 million in grants in just a couple of years is, by all means, a pretty big take, but it’s not the biggest take for this outfit.

Meanwhile, Kymab has also received big support from Wellcome. In 2010, Wellcome's investment division made a $30.4 million investment in Series A financing for the company.   

Then, in 2014, Wellcome and the Gates Foundation each invested $20 million in Kymab to “advance its proprietary pipeline of first-in-class therapeutic monoclonal antibodies in areas of significant unmet medical need.”  

Wellcome Trust is an important foundation to watch right now. In 2015, it announced a plan to invest around $7.5 billion in innovative biomedical research projects around the world.