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“There are immediate wins” – protecting science spending in austere times

by Dan Bridge | Analysis

15 May 2013

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Government spending on research brings crucial benefits

These are difficult times for the economy. Next month, the Government is set to announce the results of its recent Spending Review, looking at how much it is going to spend on each area of the UK’s economy.

Yesterday, at a meeting in Parliament, our chief executive Dr Harpal Kumar championed the crucial role of medical research in the UK. He was speaking at an All Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research event about “Investing in medical research for the UK’s future”. 

It was a great chance for Harpal to talk about the fantastic, life-saving medical and scientific research that’s going on in the UK, and how it’s vital that our Government maintains its spending on science.

Harpal outlined the significant benefits to patients that Government spending on research can bring about. The £332 million we spent last year on research was raised solely from generous public donation. But just like other medical research charities, we rely on Government spending to create infrastructure to create the right research environment for us to spend your money effectively on beating cancer.

Harpal likened spending on scientific infrastructure as akin to spending on major transport or housing projects: “There are immediate wins, and the country also reaps long-term social and economic benefits which far outweigh the upfront costs,” he said.

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society (and a former CEO of Cancer Research UK), also spoke at the event about the Francis Crick Institute. Sir Paul will be the Institute’s first director and Cancer Research UK is one of The Crick’s founding partners – it’ll help drive science and cancer research even further forward. We’re funding it through our Create the Change campaign.

Sir Paul was keen to discuss the opportunities the Institute offers to attract the top scientists and deliver a world-class workforce to UK medical research. He highlighted the need for Government to continue to invest to support this goal.

And politicians also heard the global pharmaceutical industry’s view of the UK’s medical research base. Patrick Vallance from GlaxoSmithKline told them about how academic and industrial partnerships were beginning to bear fruit with more innovative new drugs being developed, following a slump in R&D productivity for over a decade.

Patrick explained that despite the current doom and gloom around the economy, pharmaceutical and medical research companies are increasingly recognising that investment in research partnerships reaps rewards. He was keen to stress that, as companies look to invest in R&D, now is the time to secure the quality and extent of the UK’s world-class science base.

To coincide with the event, yesterday we also launched our new report “Working together: the impact of medical research investment on the health and wealth of the nation“. The report details how medical research in the UK benefits from all the different types of funding and expertise that exists here.

It shows how a mixture of support from Government, charity and industry partners, university research laboratories, and the National Health Service, provides the breadth and diversity that are crucial to tackling existing and future healthcare challenges.

We are using this to further support the case for Government to maintain its spending on science.

After all, as Harpal told our political leaders, spending on science and research delivers such economic growth and benefits patients, the Government should maintain spending “not despite, but because of, the pressure of austerity and hesitant economic growth”.

Dan Bridge and Andrew Hollingsworth, Cancer Research UK Policy Department