UK could lose up to £7.8 billion of medical research funding because of COVID-19 pandemic 

Cancer Research UK

New figures from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) suggest that the UK could lose up to £7.8 billion of investment in life-saving research by 2027 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, mainly due to lost charity income. 

The latest analysis predicts that UK charities are set to lose 38% of their fundraising income this year and over 25% next year, which will dramatically affect how much they can invest in research.

Chris Thomas, a senior health fellow at IPPR, said the £7.8 billion figure is £1 in every £10 of UK medical research spend and would be a devastating blow for the country. 

“The impact of COVID-19 on the fundraising income of this country’s medical research charities is the most pressing problem,” said Thomas. “Though their work is sometimes unseen, research charities are the lifeblood of UK life sciences.” 

The IPPR is urging the UK Government to take steps to support the life sciences sector. 

An enormous shortfall

The £7.8 figure is the combined effect of the pandemic on medical research charities and the private sector.

  • Up to £4.1 billion less being invested in health research by medical research charities.
  • Up to £3.8 billion lost due to less investment from the private sector, with £1.3 billion of that figure coming as a knock-on effect of reduced charity investment. 

According to the IPPR, charities provide the foundation for private investment, with the UK’s medical research charities acting as a long-standing draw for global businesses. 

“The enormity of the loss of funding predicted by IPPR is equivalent to supporting 55,000 PhD students – the future generation of leaders in areas like cancer research – or keeping all 4 of Cancer Research UK’s cutting-edge research institutes running for almost 30 years,” says Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK's chief executive.  

“But the impact of research cuts goes further than medical research charities not being able to fund as much life-saving research as we need to. We could also be facing countless missed opportunities to work with industry to develop new diagnostics and treatments for future patients.”

The £7.8 billion figure is a reasonable worst-case scenario, highlighting what could happen if medical research charities aren’t supported to get back on their feet and echoing estimates from other sources. In September, the UK’s National Cancer Research Institute projected a 24% drop in the UK’s overall cancer research spending this year.  

The UK Government must act now

Cancer Research UK has already been forced to cut £44 million of planned research because of the pandemic. Without support, the charity will need to reduce its annual research spend by £150 million a year over the next 3-4 years. 

Along with the Association of Medical Research Charities and other medical charities, Cancer Research UK is calling on the Government to set up a Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund with at least £310m in the first year. The Fund would provide a bridge to protect the vital contribution of charity research and development to the health and wealth of the country.

“The IPPR report provides strong evidence for the need for quick, decisive action from the Government to protect our vital research by creating a Life-Sciences Charity Partnership Fund. If the Government is committed to making the UK a global science superpower, then it needs to act now before we are at the point of no return.” – Michelle Mitchell