The UK punches above its weight in science, especially life sciences research. For a small country we have an international reputation for academic excellence, a strong skills base, and a thriving ecosystem for the life sciences. The success of UK life sciences research in the UK is reliant on a number of interdependent actors: industry, charities and the public sector.
Each has an important and complementary role in funding research and development (R&D) with the ultimate goal of developing innovative new medicines for patients. This positive environment is one of the reasons why the pharmaceutical industry currently invests more than £11.2 million a day on R&D in the UK.
But all this activity may be under threat. In the current Spending Review, Government departments have been asked to find £20 billion in savings and there is a real risk that the money spent on funding science will be lost. Today, we joined 197 other life science organisations including research funders, investors and companies in writing to the Financial Times urging the Government to protect science funding and keep the UK as a global leader in research. Our acting CEO, Alison Clough, also spoke on the Today Programme outlining our concerns if public sector funding is lost.
Public sector funding for research is one of the backbones of UK science - this funding produces the highly skilled postgraduates and scientists of the future, it funds ground-breaking scientific advances and it leverages significant inward investment into the UK. Indeed, analysis suggests that each £1 of public funding will lead to a rise in private sector funding between £1.13 and £1.60. This public spending on the science budget leverages – rather than displaces - private and charitable funding, decreasing investment in one of these sectors will have a knock-on effect in the others.
Medicines development requires collaboration with the world’s best scientists. Indeed the recent Dowling Report identified that 15 of the top 40 most collaborative companies (who undertook collaborative research between academic institutions and industry) were from the pharmaceutical industry. Public sector funding is essential in ensuring the UK maintains its position as a scientific world leader and subsequently a go-to destination for life sciences R&D.
We have therefore urged the Government to protect the science and research budgets, both capital and resource, against inflation and ideally maintain funding in this area in real terms. A long-term approach by Government for both capital investment and investment in the science budget is important to give certainty to global industry that the UK is ‘open for business’ in the life sciences and welcomes pharmaceutical placement of R&D. And like any good investment this should pay dividends - previous ring-fencing of the science budget in cash terms has given rise to £1.2 billion of private sector investment that would not have occurred if the budget had been cut in line with other government departments. Funding science brings a host of economic and health benefits, see these blogs by other research funders on the subject: Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, so please George Osborne – keep doing it!