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Investment in UK science – it’s a team effort

09 Nov 2015

Chloe Watson, Policy Officer for the British Heart Foundation, on the need to come together to support science in the Spending Review

The British Heart Foundation is the largest independent funder of cardiovascular research in the UK, funding around £100 million of new research each year. This research is helping us to understand why heart disease occurs, how to diagnose it more quickly and treat it more effectively.

Government investment in UK science matters immensely to us. Whilst we do not receive any funding from Government, it plays a vital role in keeping the UK at the forefront of research and maintaining an environment in which the scientists that we fund can thrive. Like many other organisations across the sector, we have therefore been working hard to make the case for research and ensure that the science budget is maintained in real terms on the 25th November.

The arguments for investing in research have been laid out eloquently by many other contributors to this blog. Research saves lives – within cardiovascular disease, we now see seven out of ten people survive a heart attack – and it drives economic growth and productivity, through employment opportunities, inward investment, and the development of technologies that help us to live healthier, more productive lives.

Research funding is a team effort. It relies on stable, long-term investment from a range of funders – from UK Government and industry, to charitable funders such as the BHF. We sometimes hear the argument that these funding sources are interchangeable, and that, in difficult economic times, charities and industry will be able to pick up the slack if Government funding is cut. In reality, different funders each have their own role to play, and complement rather than duplicate each other’s investment.

If we are to continue to see breakthroughs that change lives and strengthen the UK economy, we need to invest together. Here are four reasons why:

1. Support for universities

At the BHF, we are able to support life saving research thanks to the generous donations that we receive from our supporters. These donations are spent directly on research, ensuring that our donors see the impact that their money has in the fight against heart disease. We are able to do this because UK Government supports universities to cover general running costs, such as lighting and heating, through the Charity Research Support Fund. In 2014, Government investment through this fund totalled £198 million, leveraging £805 million from charities for research.

2. Working together

Some of the most ambitious and exciting projects of recent years have come about when charitable funders, industry and government have all come together to tackle an issue or seize a new and exciting opportunity. UK Biobank, for example, was made possible through a coalition of funders across UK Government and the charity sector, and now provides a rich resource for researchers across academia and industry to help us understand and treat devastating conditions, such as heart disease. With major new challenges on the horizon, such as how we care for an ageing population or unlock the power of big data, these large collaborations are likely to become ever more important.

3. From bench to bedside

Each funder has its own role to play in the journey of a new treatment from bench to bedside. Through its diverse funding streams, UK Government plays a crucial role at a number of stages, including support for basic research, through government-funded agencies such as the Medical Research Council, and funding for clinical research taking place in hospitals, through the National Institute for Health Research. Government and charities also de-risk projects by investing in research at an early stage of development so that they are more attractive to follow-on funders such as industry. This ensures that good ideas result in tangible improvements for patients.

4. Attracting investment

The impact of Government funding stretches a lot further than the money itself. Evidence shows that investment from Government attracts further funding from the private sector. In fact, an extra £1 public funding would lead to an increase in private funding of between £1.13 and £1.60, according to recent analysis.

By investing together, we can do more than any of us could achieve alone. That is why we are continuing to call on Government to maintain the science budget in real-terms at the 2015 Spending Review.

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