Investing in science pays dividends for health and wealth

Posted on June 18, 2013 by


Dan Bridge and Andrew Hollingsworth from the Cancer Research UK policy team talk us through their recent report on the importance of Government support for medical research.

On 26th June, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will stand at the dispatch box in the House of Commons to set out Government departments’ expenditure budgets for 2015-16. This is known as the spending round and it includes the science budget. Medical research charities are playing an important role in demonstrating the critical need for Government to maintain funding for science and showing how it allows the research community to continue to conduct life-saving research.

Together, UK medical research charities spend over £1 billion a year on pushing forward the boundaries of knowledge and understanding of disease.

This is impressive investment and shows the generosity of the British people and their belief that research can overcome serious health problems.

This charity investment is not in isolation, but part of a complex ecosystem of research funding between academia, industry and Government.

Cancer Research UK’s report, Working together, the impact of medical research investment on the health and wealth of the nation, explains the importance of Government support which allows Britain’s vibrant medical research sector to flourish.  In short the report demonstrates how medical research contributes to a healthy nation and wealthy economy.

The report looks at ways in which Government investment in medical research contributes to:

  • generating income and creating cost efficiencies for the UK;
  • allowing interdependency between funders to take place;
  • leveraging investment from additional sources;
  • developing and maintaining the UK’s standing globally, and
  • providing patients with continuous improvements in healthcare.

Importantly it shows that, despite not receiving any direct Government funding, medical research charities such as Cancer Research UK rely on  the Government to co-fund research in partnership with them and invest in infrastructure to reach their goals of improving patient health.

We demonstrate how Government funding of an area of research creates the conditions for further investment from other organisations in the same area.  Public funding of the basic infrastructure in universities supports the indirect costs of research, which allows investment by the charitable research sector in UK universities. For example last year, Cancer Research UK spent £183 million in UK universities.

It’s clear how the funding structures – such as Government investment through funding the Research Councils as well as to universities via the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) – reinforce each others’ efforts and other players’ efforts.

In clinical research, again, Government support is crucial for facilitating an environment in which academics can run trials in the NHS, by providing the infrastructure to recruit patients, as well as covering the costs of extra procedures, such as tests or scans.

The advantages of collaboration aren’t only financial – the differing skills and knowledge brought to the table by public, charitable and industry funders leads to more productive and complementary collaborations.

We used the example of Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMCs) which are funded by Cancer Research UK and the Government-funded National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to demonstrate how working together can deliver the best results for patients. The ECMCs are set up to develop basic understanding of cancer and pull this through into early stage clinical trials for treatments. The network has already been recognised internationally as a unique asset for the UK which could not exist without our collaboration with Government.

What all this evidence shows is that research saves more lives by pioneering new ways to prevent, control and cure disease. In the field of cancer thanks to the improvements we have made in diagnosis, control and treatment, a cancer patient today is now more than twice as likely to survive than a patient 40 years ago.

Without a strong research infrastructure, with public, private and charitable players working together, we will struggle to deliver the next generation of innovation.

It is thanks to Government support that the public’s generosity in medical research charities like Cancer Research UK can be directed towards treating and curing diseases.

That is why it is vital that Government continues to maintain the science budget and that funding for medical research is sustained in the future.

Dan Bridge and Andrew Hollingsworth work in the Cancer Research UK policy department; Dan is a senior policy adviser and Andrew is a public affairs manager.

Posted in: Policy