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What the autumn statement means for cancer research

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by Cancer Research UK | News

22 November 2023

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the Palace of Westminster

Today, all eyes were on the Chancellor as he set out the economic forecast and announced fiscal measures and public spending in the autumn statement.

Amidst headline-grabbing tax cuts and other measures designed to increase growth, there were also announcements important to Cancer Research UK.

In his speech it was good to see Jeremy Hunt recommit to creating a smokefree generation. However, the most interesting new announcements for us were about supporting UK science, which is vital to making more progress for people affected by cancer.

Here are our initial thoughts on what the Government’s latest announcements mean for the UK research environment.

What does the autumn statement mean for the cancer research landscape?

In his headline science announcement, the Chancellor promised £750m in extra funding for UK research and development this financial year – including £250m for long-term world-class Discovery Fellowships, which will fund the work of mid-career scientists. While we await further detail on how this money will be spent and where it has come from, it’s good to see this level of investment in UK R&D.

We also saw evidence of how the Government intends to support research for the future. In March, Sir Paul Nurse’s review of the research landscape laid out a roadmap to achieve a more sustainable research ecosystem, and the Government responded today by setting out the initial priorities they will take forward from the review, which included a specific reference to our flagship Francis Crick Institute. It is now vital Government delivers on the ambitions they have set out in the response and builds on it by looking to how we can secure UK cancer research in the longer term, including by supporting discovery research.

How does it help translate research into patient impact?

Cancer Research UK, though our innovation engine Cancer Research Horizons, translates cutting-edge innovations from the lab to the bedside. The Chancellor’s announcements today should make that process easier, increasing our ability to develop effective treatments and tests from world-class research.

Importantly, the Chancellor announced that temporary measures previously introduced to write off taxes on capital investment will be made permanent. Developing medicines is a capital-intensive exercise and this change means that for every £1 a company invests their taxes will be cut by 25p. This is a positive step that echoes sector calls and should make the UK a more internationally competitive research destination.

There were also positive, if not perfect, changes to tax credits for small and medium sized research-intensive companies. These are the companies that often bring pioneering new treatments from the lab bench to the people who need them, so supporting their growth should be a key priority.

More generally, changes to unlock pension funds should increase investment in the UK’s most innovative companies. We’d like to see companies specialising in oncology benefiting from this.

We were also pleased to see Government accept recommendations from the independent review of university spinout companies, which was published yesterday. The announcement of a £20m funding injection to foster more spinouts should also help to strengthen the UK’s drug development ecosystem.

You can find out more about our view on what’s needed to improve how universities commercialise their research in this recent Cancer Research Horizons blog by our chief business officer Tony Hickson.

What does the autumn statement mean for research in the NHS?

The UK Government’s full response to the Lord O’Shaughnessy review of industry trials was also published today, in time for a reference in the autumn statement. This follows a report by ABPI last week showing that 15% more patients accessed industry clinical trials in 2022/23 compared with 2021/22, when there was a considerable drop-off. It’s reassuring to see the data moving in the right direction,

Our recent engagement with clinical research staff has reaffirmed just how difficult it’s been to deliver studies in the past 18 months – and just how important it is to make a change. Wider NHS pressures, staff vacancies and lack of dedicated clinician time to conduct research are restricting the access people affected by cancer have to the potentially life-saving trials. In turn, that’s limiting our ability to turn scientific discoveries into kinder and more effective diagnostics and treatments.

As such, the Chancellor’s focus on making it easier for people to take part in clinical trials is welcome. The new Clinical Trial Delivery Accelerator, which, was also announced in the Lord O’Shaughnessy review and is backed by up to £20m, aims to expand the practice of delivering clinical studies outside the physical structures of traditional trial sites (which are usually hospitals) and closer to people’s homes, where safe to do so. It will be piloted in trials for dementia.

What else do we need from government to improve cancer research?

Overall, we’re pleased to see that the government understands just how much supporting research can benefit society and the economy. We’ll continue to study the full text of these announcements in detail and assess what they mean for cancer research, but it’s clear that they won’t shift the dial if they aren’t properly implemented.

That ties in to one of Cancer Research UK’s ongoing priorities. Supporting research – in universities, research institutes, oncology spin outs, and the health service – is vital to improving how we prevent, detect, diagnose and treat cancer.

Next Tuesday we will be setting out all our priorities for a post-election government in our Manifesto for Cancer Research and Care, which will include further recommendations for science and research policy.