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Sowing the seeds for an ideal research environment

by Harriet Teare | Analysis

14 September 2011

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The cover of "Building the Ideal Environment for Medical Research"

Click on the image to download the report

Much like a gardener creating the ideal conditions for their plants to thrive using good soil, sunlight and water, we’ve been looking at the conditions which help create a vibrant medical research community in the UK.

Today sees the launch of the fruits of these endeavours – a report, ‘Building the Ideal Environment for Medical Research (pdf),’ in which we set out the important challenges the medical research community faces in order to grow and develop.

We also look at the ways in which we desperately need government and other key players to work together to make the UK a more attractive place to do research.

Medical research is a hugely complicated process.  One good example of the challenges the medical community faces is in the development of new drugs, where progress from basic, cellular research, all the way up to full-scale clinical trials in humans, can take between 10 – 15 years and cost up to £800 million pounds, according to a 2009 analysis.

Though it may not seem so at first, the external political and organisational environment is crucial to the success of medical research, allowing the UK to not only attract the best scientists in the world, but allow them to conduct their research with the best equipment, and within the most efficient regulatory systems.

The UK currently has an enviable scientific record, with 4 of the top 10 universities in the world, and our researchers producing more publications and citations per pound spent than any other G8 country.

We’re also unique compared with the rest of Europe in the contribution of our medical research charities – who fund over £1bn of research annually.

That said, there are still numerous issues that hamper our scientists’ ability to do the best research possible. Following the Government’s commitment to science in the Spending Review and the Plan for Growth, we’ve produced our new report  to set out  what else we think should be done to foster and support medical research.

We wrote the report after interviewing  30 of our top experts, several of whom appear as case studies.. It also looks at the ideal building blocks for medical research, considering everything from funding and infrastructure, to the immigration of world-leading scientists, and clinical research regulation and governance.  It aims to provide a useful talking point of our key views for when the Government’s Research and Innovation Strategy is released at the end of the year.

The report acknowledges that the Government’s move to freeze the £4.6bn science budget was necessary at the time, and welcomes the emphasis in the Plan for Growth for life sciences to be a key driver for the economy.

As we’ve mentioned in a previous post about our work with the Office of Health Economics, medical research funding works best when it’s supported well by Government, industry and charity.

We hope a confident Government strategy will demonstrate that the UK is committed to supporting a stable environment for medical research now, which will blossom in the future.