Interdependencies in Funding Medical Research in the UK

Cancer Research UK has recently released a report completed for it by OHE and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex that focuses on the strength and nature of interdependence in the funding of cancer research.

As earlier OHE research has demonstrated, sources of funding for medical research—public, charity and private sector—are complementary in effect, not duplicative. The three sectors also differ in their approaches; reduced funding from one would not only decrease the overall financing available, but also change the nature of the research effort overall. This is a concern given that austerity in government spending in the UK is likely to continue for some time.

OHE and SPRU produced a report for Cancer Research UK to explore two sets of questions:

  1. What are the differences in the research activities supported by various funders in the UK? How complementary and interdependent are they?
  2. If government funding of life sciences research was cut, what would be the effect on life sciences research in the UK? Could other funders compensate for the loss of funds?

The research for the report included the following.

1.  Economies of scale in charity- and publicly-funded medical research in the UK were explored via a literature review, interviews with major UK medical research funders and analysis of cost data provided by those interviewed.

The study found that economies of scale are relatively modest except when research requires particularly specialized and costly equipment and infrastructure.

2. Analysis of the interdependencies and the differences across the research activities supported by the diverse funders of cancer research in the UK. Research publications were examined to gain an understanding of the importance of funders named or acknowledged, including those from outside the UK.

The study found that funding for two-thirds of projects reported in publications routinely came from more than one funder, just under half had funding from outside the UK, and a fifth received funding from industry. The study’s findings reflect the highly collaborative nature of cancer research, with the majority of papers being produced by teams working across organisations and many relying on international co-authorship ties. These ties leverage thousands of national and international funding sources, large and small, to support the 7% of global cancer publications that the UK produces.

3. To explore the connections between government and charity funding of cancer research in the UK, the study included an Internet-based survey of how changes in government funding might affect the general public’s willingness to donate to cancer research charities.

The study found that the general public would not want public funding for cancer research to be reduced, but would also not donate more to compensate for a reduction.

The report concludes that:

Exploring the interdependencies between different medical research funders, particularly in cancer, provides us with a striking picture of the extent to which research funders contribute together to produce world class research. The findings provide a compelling case for why investment—by all sectors—is needed to allow the UK to maximize its research outputs.

Download Shah, K., Sussex, J., Hernandez-Villafuerte, K., Garau, M., Rotolo, D., Hopkins, M., Grassano, N., Crane, P., Lang, F., Hutton, J., Pateman, C., Mawer, A., Farrell, C. and Sharp, T., 2014. Exploring the interdependencies of research funders in the UK. Research Paper 14/03. London: Office of Health Economics.

For additional information, please contact Jon Sussex at OHE. For earlier OHE research on these issues, click here.

The report is also available on Cancer Research UK’s website.    

Posted in Drug Development/R&D, Innovation, Other Public Policy | Tagged Research Papers