A decade of changes to the UK health research landscape
20 Aug 2015
A report published today finds that public and charitable funding for health research in the UK has continued to increase in the last five years, with almost £130m more spending in real terms. However the rate of increase has slowed considerably, with a compound annual growth rate of 8.2% between 2004/05 to 2009/10 in comparison to just 1.4% between 2009/10 and 2014.
The 2014 UK Health Research Analysis highlights how funders of health research have directed additional funding to translational research aimed at accelerating early stage research into clinical benefits.
Total estimated expenditure for UK health research has decreased since 2009, from £9.28bn to £8.5bn, the majority due to decreased spending in the pharmaceutical industry, although the fall in industry R&D spend has slowed recently.
A recent study of the economic returns from cancer research and evidence of the high quality output from UK science emphasises the excellent value for money that UK health research currently represents. As the outcomes from research supported in 2014 will become apparent in future years it is vitally important that the balance of research activities are right to realise the greatest health and economic benefit from medical research.
The report, produced by the MRC on behalf of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC), gives the first opportunity to assess possible trends in funding over the ten year reporting period. It pools data from the top UK health funders to produce an overview of health research across the UK. While individual funding organisations have their own research objectives and strategic plans, it is how they interconnect that supports the UK health research base as a whole.
Most notable among the changes in the type of research being funded since 2004 is the prioritisation of translational research with a focus on prevention, diagnosis and treatment development. This presents strong evidence that funders are collectively changing the UK research landscape to capitalise on discoveries and accelerate early stage research into clinical benefits.
The latest report shows that both charity and public funders of research support a diverse range of disease areas. In addition, the type of research performed by different funders varies considerably. Research councils focus on fundamental discovery science, while charities focus on the aetiology, prevention and early detection of disease. Government funding, principally from the national health departments, supports the full spectrum of research activity, with particular focus on disease management and health services. Together this close co-ordination of activities results in a UK-wide complementary approach to supporting research.
Dr Ian Viney, MRC Director of Strategic Evaluation and chair of the UKCRC Health Research Analysis Forum, stated: “Research councils, of which MRC being the largest contributor by far, support nearly two thirds (62%) of all underpinning health research undertaken in the UK. One finding in this report is that expenditure on translating of this ‘basic research’ into future treatments has grown most over the last ten years.
“Without public investment in basic research and the infrastructure supporting it, funded through the research councils, many future treatments that have such a large impact on health and economic growth will never be developed at all.”
More about the 2014 report
The dataset used in the 2014 analysis is publically available meaning that other funders can perform their own analyses. This, alongside the UKCRC’s continued efforts to promote the HRCS as an international standard, continues the current emphasis for better access to research portfolio data and promotes the use of landscaping analyses to better support biomedical funding in the future.
The report also expands both the participation and content of the analysis, with the addition of 52 new funders, new quality control procedures and a comparison of charity, research council and government spending patterns.
More about the UKCRC
The UKCRC is a partnership between the UK’s main business, public and charitable health funders, was established in 2004 to better examine and coordinate UK health research spending. Part of the remit for the UKCRC was to develop a unified method to compare funding portfolios and thereby map the landscape of UK health research, leading to establishment of the UK Health Research Analyses.
A bespoke coding system to classify research funding, the Health Research Classification System (HRCS), allows the combined results from all funders to be used to assess the whole of the UK’s health research funding. The analyses enable better coordination of joint funding ventures and national policies and allow funders to directly compare their research portfolios to better define their interdependency.
The first UK Health Research Analysis (2004/05) provided a baseline for future reporting, and allowed policy makers to identify areas requiring additional support. Prevention research, which covers interventions to prevent disease, showed the lowest proportion of funding in the 2004/05 analysis. As a result of this, funding strategies were established to promote prevention research, via the National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI)