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UK scientists urge PM to prevent “catastrophic” fall in charity research funding

Melanie May | 8 July 2020 | News

More than 60 of the UK’s top cardiovascular disease and cancer research scientists have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister asking for urgent financial support for UK medical research charities.
Amidst concerns that recent funding announcements from Government for universities and charities will not address the shortfall in medical research charity investment in the UK science base, the letter urges it to “take swift action to invest in a Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund to protect the vital and unique contribution charity-funded biomedical research makes to the UK’s R&D ecosystem and the wider economy.”
Last year medical research charities invested £1.9 billion into UK research, with Cancer Research UK and the BHF funding more than half of all non-commercial UK research into cancer and heart and circulatory diseases.
However, Cancer Research UK says it may have to cut an annual £150 million from its research funding due to the pandemic’s impact, while the BHF anticipates cutting its research spend by half this year, from £100 million to around £50 million. This impact is not expected to be restricted to the short-term, with some level of reduction in funding tentatively forecast for at least the next three to five years.
The scientists say such a sharp fall could have a catastrophic impact on the UK’s research and R&D base, the research careers of thousands of young scientists, and advances in diagnostics, treatments and cures for people with the UK’s deadliest diseases.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation said:

“Without immediate action, the UK’s research base faces a devastating fall in funding that will delay progress in discovering new ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases including heart attack, stroke and vascular dementia. We also risk losing a generation of promising young researchers and diminishing the UK’s standing as a world leader in science. We cannot afford to let this happen during a pandemic which has underlined the critical role science and research play in the UK’s healthcare and economy.”
“The call for a Life Sciences – Charity Partnership Fund is about far more than supporting charities. It would represent a Government investment in UK research, returned many times over in terms of the world leading scientific discoveries it enables, the fuel it provides to the UK economy, and the lives that will be saved through the treatments and cures that will follow.”

The proposal is supported by the Association of Medical Research Charities and 151 of its charity members, and centres around a co-investment scheme that provides a level of match funding for future charity research over the next three to five years. The AMRC estimates a reduction in UK medical research investment of £310 million this financial year, and that it could take several years for funding to return to current levels.
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK Chief Executive, said:


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“If the Government believes in improving cancer survival, ensuring the UK retains its position as a global scientific power, and protecting our talented scientists, it must support the UK’s research charities in their time of need. We know that with support we can help get research back on track, along with the many benefits this brings to the economy.
“Ultimately it will be patients who will miss out on life-saving discoveries if the Charity Partnership Fund isn’t backed by Government, which is heartbreaking and preventable.”

The BHF currently supports a portfolio of £446 million of research at 47 institutions across the UK. This includes funding the posts of more than 1700 researchers.
Cancer Research UK spent £442 million on research into all types of cancer in 2018/2019, investing in state-of-the-art facilities that helped create a network of research at 90 institutions in more than 40 UK towns and cities. It funds around 4,000 researchers in labs and hospitals across the UK, including over 500 PhD students.