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Tuesday, 11 August 2020

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Top UK scientists urge Prime Minister to prevent ‘catastrophic’ fall in charity research funding

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MORE than 60 of the UK’s top cardiovascular disease and cancer research scientists have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister pressing for urgent financial support for UK medical research charities.

The letter urges the Government 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.’

The scientists – many of whom have risen to become international leaders in their fields thanks to decades of funding from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and Cancer Research UK – are concerned that recent funding announcements from Government for universities and charities will not address the significant shortfall in medical research charity investment in the UK science base.

Last year medical research charities invested £1.9 billion into UK research. Cancer Research UK and the BHF alone funded more than half of all non-commercial UK research into cancer and heart and circulatory diseases.

But cancelled fundraising events and shop closures due to coronavirus have sparked an unprecedented funding crisis for charities. Cancer Research UK could be forced to cut £150 million per year from its research funding, and the BHF anticipates having to cut 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 3-5 years.

The leading 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, now backed by many of the country’s most eminent scientists, 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. With the Chancellor setting out a plan for the UK’s economic recovery tomorrow, stabilising UK science should be at the heart of it.”

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’s chief executive, said:

“It’s imperative that the Government urgently works with medical research charities to come to a solution so that decades of investment in UK research is not lost in a matter of months. Charities like Cancer Research UK support the careers of thousands of scientists – but this isn’t just about the impact on leaders in our field of research, it’s about future generations of scientists that could lose out on opportunities.

“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.

“But, 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, hundreds of whom are in the early stages of their scientific career.

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 thriving 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.

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