Science leaders and parliamentarians call for science spending to be protected

Posted on May 15, 2013 by

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Leaders of the medical research community, including charities, academia and the pharmaceutical industry, have joined with MPs and peers to write to the Times, calling for continued government support for research in the spending round, emphasising the value of this to the UK economy.  The letter follows a breakfast held by the APPG on Medical Research yesterday where Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society and chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute, spoke of the value of public, private and charity funding for research in the UK. Paul was joined by Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, and Dr Patrick Vallance, president of pharmaceutical R&D at GlaxoSmithKline, who reiterated how a diversity of funders create our innovative and highly productive research environment and  how government money leverages further investment from charities and industry. They warned that we are in a competitive global environment and we must work hard to make sure the UK continues to build on our expertise and boosts our research capacity to maintain its position as a world leader in the life sciences, which brings both health and economic benefits.

At the end of the breakfast, speakers and guests agreed to write to the Times to highlight the key messages of the meeting:

Long-term funding is needed from the Government to ensure the continuation of the UK as a place blessed with a vibrant research eco-system

Sir, Yesterday MPs, peers and leaders of the medical research community met to discuss the benefits of science to society and our country’s health, and to our economy. Science has been put centre-stage in the Government’s plan to build a sustainable economic recovery. We must now build on this conviction and not lose the momentum in the forthcoming spending round.
The UK is blessed with a vibrant research eco-system, made possible by public, private and charitable funders that make a unique contribution to the science base. Long-term commitment from the Government is needed to maintain confidence and to leverage further investment from charities and industry. The Francis Crick Institute, a biomedical research centre funded by the public and charities in partnership, is a prime example of this in practice, and will act as a beacon to attract private investment to the UK.

Our world-class education system provides the skilled people essential to our high-tech economy, and the NHS sets us apart as a global destination for medical research. We should not risk these valuable assets now.

With only 4 per cent of the world’s scientists, the UK is responsible for 14 of the top 100 medicines in use today (second only to the US). As Venki Ramakrishnan eloquently argued last week (Opinion, May 8) we must maintain this position by keeping pace with our competitors. Continued government investment in R&D now will lead to life-changing advances that will benefit people’s health and wellbeing and create new industries to drive economic growth.

Lord Turnberg, Chair All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research; Sir Paul Nurse, Chief Executive, The Francis Crick Institute and President of the Royal Society; Dr Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive, Cancer Research UK; Professor Patrick Vallance, President, Pharmaceuticals Research and Development, GlaxoSmithKline; Lord Darzi of Denham; Professor Sir John Tooke, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences; Dr Julian Huppert, MP; Andrew Miller, MP, Chair, House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee; Lord Willis of Knaresborough, Chair, Association of Medical Research Charities; Dr David Lynn, Director, Strategic Planning and Policy, Wellcome Trust; Sharmila Nebhrajani, Chief Executive, Association of Medical Research Charities; Dr Liam O’Toole, Chief Executive, Arthritis Research UK; Jeremy Lefroy, MP; Baroness Jolly; Sir Peter Bottomley, MP; Professor John Wass, Academic Vice President, Royal College of Physicians; Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Development, Parkinson’s UK; Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director, British Heart Foundation; Professor Sir Robert Lechler, Executive Director, King’s Health Partners, and Vice-Principal (Health) King’s College London; Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive, the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry

Why is this happening now?

Government departments are in the midst of putting together their bids for government funds as the Treasury takes forward its latest spending round, reviewing the current spending allocations and agreeing budgets for 2015-16. The Treasury plans to announce their decisions on 26 June when we will find out  how much each government department will be getting. Each Department will then need to decide how to share their allocation out across their spending responsibilities.

Some areas including health and education are protected and won’t be subject to direct cuts. But the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills which funds the research councils and universities among other responsibilities does not have its funding protected. As a result medical research charities, alongside everyone funding research in the UK, are particularly concerned about the Department’s allocation.

What next?

We have been gathering evidence which we have been sharing with government departments, holding a series of workshops with BIS to better understand the interplay between public, charity and industry funders of research in the UK.

This spending round is for a relatively short term – we’re expecting a full-scale comprehensive spending review in the next Parliament after the next general election, which is due in May 2015.