The Rosetrees Trust is a unique charity which works on the basis of venture philanthropy for medical research. In other words, we invest relatively small sums for big ideas and help cutting edge projects get off the ground. Thirty years after the charity was established by my parents on the occasion of their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1987, we now support more than 300 projects every year, researching conditions as diverse as nano-technology, regenerative medicine, cancer and neurological disorders.
Thirty years after the charity was established by my parents on the occasion of their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1987, we now support more than 300 projects every year, researching conditions as diverse as nano-technology, regenerative medicine, cancer and neurological disorders.
I’m pleased to say that our initial funding has helped bring our researchers in £350 million in major grants and our next target is to raise that to £1 billion.
My father was a self-made man and a lateral thinker who wanted to give back to society. As a trained accountant, I’m more at home with looking at numbers, but I worked alongside him for 25 years and he taught me to look at things differently and try new approaches.
The first ever grant we gave was £3000 per annum (or £9000 over three years) to Richard Begent, professor of oncology at the Royal Free Hospital in London. He was going to use targeted chemotherapy to treat cancer patients more effectively with fewer side effects and it sounded like a good idea. So it turned out and targeted treatment for cancer is now used widely.
Our largest grant to date has been £700,000 to the Royal College of Surgeons to assist them with compiling a comprehensive data base of gold standard procedures for everything from knee operations, to hip replacements and heart bypass surgery. In total, this project could take a decade to complete.
We don’t expect quick results – medical research can take years to come to fruition. One promising young man who has been a beneficiary of the Rosetrees Trust, started out 40 years with a dream to help paralysed people walk again. Professor Geoff Raisman recently became the subject of world wide news when he managed to fulfil this ambition and help a man walk who had been paralysed from the chest down in a knife attack.
Professor George Hanna is a more recent recipient of one of our grants and hopes to develop his idea to design a breath test for cancer. He was inspired by medical detection dogs which are already used to sniff out cancer and has created an artificial test along the same principles.
We know that some promising leads will result in dead ends. But, as an eminent professor told me recently, this too can be helpful since it gives a roadmap to researchers who come after. It’s absolutely vital that the research is of the highest quality, and we have systems in place, including academic peer review, to ensure that standards are scientifically impeccable. We have a light touch, but we ask that researchers report to us twice a year – on one piece of A4 paper – so we can see how things are progressing. We also meet our researchers face to face on a regular basis.
Our symposium at Great Ormond Street Hospital, due to take place on the 14th September, attended by some of the most distinguished medic and academics in the country, is a fitting way to celebrate our anniversary, not least because we have supported many research projects at this world-leading children’s hospital.
In the future, we particularly want to help researchers of mental health, since this is an area that has often been neglected by donors in the past. Thankfully, partly due to the support of members of the Royal Family, including Their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry of Wales, there is much less stigma surrounding mental health but more needs to be done. Dementia is another area which is often passed over, even though it affects millions of people in the UK.
We are fortunate to have the support from over 100 co-donors, who donate to specific projects of their choice with the free guidance and expertise of our Foundation. This means that the entirety of their donation can go to the project of their choice. Donors also have the opportunity to control the level of involvement, with the option to attend regular meetings with researchers and share written reports sent to Rosetrees.
My grandparent were immigrants who came to Britain over 100 years ago with very little. My parents worked hard and were successful and wanted to thank the country that they called home. My own personal involvement in the Foundation has been hugely rewarding and life enhancing and I am grateful for the chance to follow in their footsteps and help advance medical science for the benefit of all.