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Four reasons why the Government needs to keep spending money on science

08 Oct 2015

Hollie Chandler, Senior Policy Advisor at Cancer Research UK, on making science a priority

Cancer Research UK is the world’s largest independent cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research. Last year we spent £434 million on research in institutes, hospitals and universities across the UK, supporting research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.

Our pioneering work has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates in the UK double in the last forty years.

Although Cancer Research UK does not receive any Government funding for our research, we depend on Government’s investment in UK science to help support our ground-breaking research and ensure it ultimately benefits patients.

So we’re worried that there’s a real risk the amount Government spends on science could be cut at the upcoming Spending Review.

That’s why our chief executive, Harpal Kumar, joined 198 other research organisations and investors in sending a letter to The Financial Times, urging the Government to protect science and keep the UK a global leader in research.

So why does this matter? Here are four reasons why we think protecting what Government spends on science is so important.

1: Research saves lives

Research helps develop more effective treatments for cancer. It also helps us understand how to prevent cancer, as well as diagnose it earlier. But that research – whether it’s funded through Government money or via generous public donations – will only truly benefit people and patients with Government support.

And a great example of this is the Bowel Scope screening test. As the timeline below shows, charity and industry funding for research that led to Bowel Scope relied on Government investment in universities and research facilities in the NHS. And as well as saving lives, Bowel Scope could also save the NHS around £300 million each year.

2: Science is good for the economy

As well as benefiting patients, investing in UK science also boosts the UK economy – something we’ve blogged about before.

We also know that science and innovation are important for getting the most out of the economy – called productivity. And the Government recently recognised this. For example, between 2000 and 2008, more than half of productivity growth in the UK was due to science and innovation.

3: Our scientific research is world-class The UK ranks an impressive 2nd in the world for the quality of its scientific research.

And the Government needs to protect our global reputation. The more the UK is known for its research, the more investment and talent it will attract, supporting further success.

This is really important to our work at Cancer Research UK. The UK’s reputation has been instrumental in the creation of the new Francis Crick Institute – a joint venture involving charitable organisations, universities and government-funded teams. It has attracted 1,200 of the world’s best scientists, who will work together to tackle cancer, and other diseases, improving the lives of patients across the world.

4: It supports universities and hospitals

When the UK Government invests in science, it helps us, and industry, invest in important research happening in UK universities and hospitals.

For example, the Charity Research Support Fund pays for overhead costs such general lab maintenance and computer support, which are not covered by charities. In 2014, the Government provided £198 million through this fund, supporting charities to spend a staggering £805 million on research in English universities. Financial help to universities creates a supportive environment in which they can continue to research, innovate and help us beat cancer sooner.

The Government’s investment in research carried out within the NHS is also important so that Cancer Research UK and others can run clinical trials and provide the latest treatments to patients faster.

For this to keep happening, the Government needs to protect the National Institution of Health Research’s budget in the Department of Health. And this will play a vital part in ensuring the NHS can achieve its five year plan for doing more research.

What are we doing to make sure science is protected?

Cancer Research UK is working to make sure Government knows their investment in science is crucial for our research and the lives of cancer patients. Along with other charities, industry and organisations such as CaSE, we will continue to call on Government to protect UK science at the Spending Review.

Let’s hope they listen, and that science remains a priority.

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