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Cancer research – benefiting patients AND the economy

by Dan Bridge | Analysis

16 June 2014

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When you think about who benefits most from cancer research, you probably think of cancer patients and their families. Research informs every aspect of a patient’s care, from the way that doctors initially diagnose the disease through to the treatments they receive.

And it works – thanks to research, survival rates have doubled since the 70s.

But the benefits to patients and their families are not the only effects of our research. A population that lives longer and healthier lives has the knock on effect of creating a more productive workforce that contributes to economic growth and tax receipts. So by helping the patients get better and the population to be healthier, research has an impact on the economy.

So, in addition to the important stories we hear from patients, and the statistics, we also want to better understand the impact of cancer research by measuring its value to the population as a whole.

To work out the overall value of cancer research to the UK, we helped support a study called Medical Research: What’s It Worth? which has analysed the economic return of Government and charity-funded cancer research.

Published today in BMC Medicine, this study highlights some important features of cancer research in the UK and shows the extent of its benefits.

This is incredibly useful for us – it helps us show the UK Government that, as well as benefitting patients, its investment in research benefits the economy as well.

In turn, this helps us to make a convincing, persuasive case for Government to keep investing in medical research, so that patients can benefit from more research taking place.

This is important – although we don’t receive any Government funding for our research, Government investment is crucial to create a strong environment in which we can conduct our research. Government funding ensures that we have world class researchers to fund, and the necessary tools, labs and clinics in place to do it.

Over the past 40 years, the public has spent £15 billion on cancer research, both through direct charitable donations and taxes. And, as we said above, over the same period, cancer survival rates have doubled – in the 1970s, less than a quarter of people with cancer survived, today half will survive.

The study looked at how this £15 billion had been spent, analysing how particular cancer ‘interventions’ (i.e. treatment, screening etc) benefitted patients and the public. They then worked out the monetary value of these health gains in a similar way to the method NICE uses when looking at whether the NHS should fund cancer treatments or not (i.e. using QALYs).

The study found that cancer research had resulted in £124 billion worth of health benefits to the public, through interventions such as better screening, more organised healthcare services and new drug treatments.

Overall, this means that, for every £1 spent on cancer research, health benefits equivalent to around 10 pence were delivered , each subsequent year, to the UK.

But the picture became even rosier when the researchers included the wider economic benefits.

In addition to this 10p, other benefits result from each £1 invested, such as developing knowledge and a skilled workforce, and increasing industry investment in the UK. These additional benefits generated another 30p for the economy each year.

In total, this means that for every £1 the public has spent on cancer research, 40p was returned to the economy every year following that investment.

Investing in medical research helps patients AND the economy

Investing in medical research helps patients AND the economy

This study clearly shows that the health benefits that cancer research brings to patients and their families have a very real effect on the economy, and that the wider benefits add up to an even bigger return on investment.

For comparison, the Government’s own internal accounting methods dictate that, for a policy to be deemed ‘a good investment’, they need to return just 3.5p per year, for every pound invested.

As an investment, medical research knocks that benchmark out of the park.

Today we will be taking this message to Parliament. In partnership with other medical research charities, we’re holding an event for MPs, to bang the drum for greater investment in medical research.

But that’s not all. In July we’ll be holding our Cancer Research UK Parliament Day to talk to MPs about the importance of research, and to raise awareness of cancer issues such as early diagnosis.

We want you to help us beat cancer sooner by writing to your MP and asking them to come along to our event, which will be held on Wednesday 2nd July, in Westminster.

We want them to be there and hear the message, loud and clear, that investing in medical research can help the country’s economy as much as its patients.

Send them an email via this form today.


  • Dan Bridge is a policy manager at Cancer Research UK


  • Glover M., Buxton M., Guthrie S., Hanney S., Pollitt A. & Grant J. (2014). Estimating the returns to UK publicly funded cancer-related research in terms of the net value of improved health outcomes., BMC medicine, PMID:
  • Image via Wikimedia Commons