I began today by reading an excellent article, a summary of all of the reasons why conducting research and delivering a meaningful result that advances science is not a straightforward or easy process, and why science only really advances when there are enough trained eyeballs staring at a problem to challenge and self-correct.
My favourite quote from the article, “Science isn’t broken. It’s just a hell of a lot harder than we give it credit for”, by Christie Aschwanden, comes from University of Washington microbiologist, Professor Ferric Fang: “Science is great, but it’s low-yield. Most experiments fail. That doesn’t mean the challenge isn’t worth it, but we can’t expect every dollar to turn a positive result. Most of the things you try don’t work out — that’s just the nature of the process.”
This is a call to keep at it – keep science moving forward. This will need continuous TLC and by TLC, I mean strategy, funding and commitment. Our biopharma member companies are constantly revisiting these points, especially during the planning cycle for future budgets. The UK Government is also currently addressing these issues through the Comprehensive Spending Review and the Accelerated Access Review.
To plan where you’re going, you need to know where you stand today, and the UK Health Research Analysis 2014 can help us do exactly that for health research in the UK. Produced for the UK Clinical Research Collaboration by a team of collaborators from the Research Councils, medical charities and the Research Offices of the Devolved Nations using data from 64 UK organisations that fund health-relevant research, this comprehensive ‘State of the Union’ assessment of health research in the UK (99 pages of detail in fact!) provides, for the first time, a ten-year review of funding trends across organisations. The long view taken identifies that money has followed the “bench to bedside” message where it comes to prioritising translational research with a focus on prevention, diagnosis and treatment development. This is welcome news for innovation in medicines.
The analysis sounds a cautionary note, however, from more recent trends, namely that the total estimated expenditure for UK health research has decreased since 2009 from £9.28 billion to £8.5 billion. The main driver for that decline is the decreased spending by the pharmaceutical industry on health research in the UK, although the decline is clearly slowing. This is seen in the context of some reductions in research and development (R&D) investment, although not all companies have reduced R&D and indeed not all countries have seen reduction in investment.
We are reminded that science needs a little TLC. Health research in the UK is an incredible opportunity for us all:
• to continue to build and advance research in the UK, which then leverages additional private investment;
• to develop new medicines and new approaches to advancing health, which then provides better care for patients;
• to continue to enrich and expand our research base and the skills of our people.
Without that TLC, how can we expect UK science to continue to renew and advance, and to do so at the international frontier? I agree with Aschwanden’s conclusion, “It’s no accident that every good paper includes the phrase “more study is needed” — there is always more to learn.”