What are our big questions about health research?

Posted on September 20, 2011 by


The MRC has launched a new consultation asking us what questions we want answered about research and the impact it has on the health and wealth of people worldwide.

They are planning to commission research to better understand the link between investing in research and getting economic and societal benefits – research that could ultimately help us make better investments – and they want our help to work out which questions to ask.


The MRC is considering commissioning new research into the economic and societal impact of health research.

That might mean more projects like the brilliant report Medical Research: What’s it worth? which estimated the economic benefits of investing in research, and gave us one of my top facts:

for each pound invested by the taxpayer of charity donor in cardiovascular disease and mental health research, a stream of benefits is produced equivalent to earning 39 pence and 37 pence respectively each year ‘in perpetuity’

MRC already does lots of internal evaluation – their e-val system asks scientists they have funded to report on the outcomes and impact of their research, allowing them to keep track of what the research they have funded goes on to do. (more on this here). Looking at this data you can see that

around 40 new products and interventions have been developed and reached the stage of market authorisation, in part as a result of MRC funding since 2006. This includes 10 new drugs.

35 spin out companies have been formed since 2006 with an evidenced link to MRC research, representing over 400 new skilled jobs.

But MRC are looking at broader questions covering the whole research sector, not just the research MRC funds. They want to explore the whole research and innovation ecosystem in the UK, looking at how to measure its performance and estimate the contribution this research is making to economic growth in the UK and internationally. All questions the Treasury wants to know the answers to when deciding how best to invest in science.

What do they want from us?

Don’t worry, they’re not asking us to answer these questions! MRC have not decided which questions to ask yet. They are using this consultation to help them identify which questions might be the most feasible to address.

They list 37 questions they could explore, questions like:

  • What are the links between research and growth in GDP, and in particular the contribution of publicly and charitable funded health research to the economic recovery?
  • Is there more we should do to understand the types of partnership, the diversity of partnerships between publicly/charitably funded researchers and the private sector, and the effect this has on innovation and growth?

but they want our feedback on whether these are the right questions, are there further areas that may be important? what other questions should they be asking? what topics we would like to see addressed?

How do we get involved?

The consultation is here.

MRC want to hear our thoughts by 7 October.

They are then going to invite a big group together on 26 October to discuss the questions and all the feedback they’ve had and identify priority questions for them to commission, tender or call for research proposals to tackle.

And at the end of this process, we should get more useful facts and evidence to help us make more informed decisions about the research we fund and how we fund it to maximise the benefits we get out of it – both for economic growth and improving healthcare.

Posted in: Policy