Battle of the Titans

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Science  21 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5981, pp. 964-967
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5981.964

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The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is almost entirely dedicated to excellence in basic science and keeps a safe distance from contentious public health and policy issues. The Wellcome Trust, in contrast, supports the study of the history and sociology of medicine, gives grants to TV producers, seeks to influence policy, and collaborates deeply with the U.K. Medical Research Council and other public bodies. Financial pressures have curtailed the rapid expansion of both Hughes and Wellcome. Huge dips in asset values in 2001 and again in 2008 left both sitting on little more cash at the end of the decade than at its start. At the same time, the two titans appear to be converging on a model in which excellent support for a small number of top university investigators, plus generous support for one or two intramural laboratories, consumes the bulk of their resources.