Outstanding return on investment in medical research

Every £1 invested in medical research delivers a return equivalent to 25p every year, forever

Research to tackle musculoskeletal conditions, such as osteoarthritis, back pain and osteoporosis, has delivered a significant long-term return on investment, a new study published today in Health Research Policy and Systems demonstrates.

This is the third in a series of studies which have revealed the return on public and charitable investment in medical research. This work demonstrates that every pound invested in medical research has delivered an annual return equivalent in value to 25p every year, forever. This is an outstanding return on investment which represents significant improvements in health as well as real benefits to the UK economy.

Supported by Arthritis Research UK, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research and Wellcome, this study extends previous work which focused on cardiovascular disease, mental health and cancer research.

In this latest research, the research team led by Professors Jonathan Grant from The Policy Institute, King’s College London and Martin Buxton from The Health Economics Research Group, Brunel University London, identified key research-based interventions that have led to reduced morbidity and mortality from musculoskeletal disease over a 20-year period. These ranged from novel drug therapies for inflammatory arthritis to advice for people with back pain to remain active.

The overall value of health gain from these musculoskeletal health interventions was estimated and set against the public and charity investment in the field. Finally, the wider economic benefits leveraged by research investment were considered, to generate the return on investment figure. This equated to health benefits of 7p, with a further 15-18p in benefits to the wider economy, every year.

Around 10 million people in the UK are affected by musculoskeletal conditions, including inflammatory forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis, back pain and osteoporosis. These painful conditions limit people’s quality of life and are one of the leading cause of UK sickness absence. However, this latest study demonstrates that research to tackle musculoskeletal conditions not only results in improved health outcomes but also generates economic gain.

In the UK - where more people give to medical research than to any other charitable cause – this new evidence indicates that research investment by the UK government and medical research charities continues to be money well spent.

Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said:

“The pain and fatigue caused by musculoskeletal conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis affect 10 million people across the UK, not to mention the impacts and implications for their loved ones and carers.

 “This study shows that funding research into these conditions not only delivers direct health benefits to patients, it is also hugely beneficial to the UK economy, helping to lay the foundations for a healthier, wealthier future.

 “This report supports previous findings that investing in biomedical research delivers an annual return of about 25 pence per pound in perpetuity, offering an indisputable economic benefit. This new figure ably illustrates why scientific research has earnt its place at the heart of a modern industrial strategy.”

 Dr Liam O’Toole, Chief Executive Officer, Arthritis Research UK, said:

“This report shows that the returns on investing in musculoskeletal research are long lasting not only to the individual, but also to the wider economy. 

 "Arthritis causes pain, stiffness, and fatigue for millions of people in the UK every single day, and can impact their ability to do things many of us take for granted, like driving to work or climbing the stairs.

 "Thanks to funding for musculoskeletal research, treatments such as the breakthrough Anti-TNF therapy and exercise interventions to prevent and manage pain are now readily available. These are just some examples of advances that are a result of investments in medical research that are helping to make everyday life better for people with arthritis.”

Dr Louise Wood, Director of Science, Research and Evidence, Department of Health, said:

“When this study was launched, we said that it was our ambition to make the NHS among the best in Europe in supporting people with long-term conditions such as arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, and that we must ensure we are using research funds as well as possible to facilitate this. The findings from this study demonstrate convincingly the value of research funded by government and charities in securing improved quality of life outcomes for patients and in delivering wider economic benefits”.

Professor Jonathan Grant, Professor of Public Policy at the Policy Institute, King’s College London said:

“This study shows that publicly and charitably funded research into musculoskeletal disease in the UK generated significant health gains over a 20-year period, improving lives and delivering substantial economic benefits in the process. Every £1 invested in such research produced direct health benefits equivalent in value to 7p, with a further 15-18p in benefits to the wider economy, every year.

 “The findings were in line with the previous studies in this series, which when taken together, show that biomedical research generates a return of 25p for every £1 invested. These studies demonstrate the importance of maintaining government investment in biomedical research, and help show that taxpayers’ and charitable organisations’ money is being well spent.”

Dr Ian Viney, Director of Evaluation at the Medical Research Council, said:

“When tough decisions have to be made about where to invest public funds for the best economic return and benefit to the nation, it’s vital to have robust research showing the positive returns from medical research – both through improved health and from wider private sector investment.

“UK medical research is skilfully coordinated across the country by public and charitable funding agencies, working closely with excellent research organisations. This study highlights how decisions to back excellent research can deliver significant benefits for society and how these benefits can be quantified.”


This study builds on a series of evaluations of the economic return from medical research, with the origins in 2006 with this report on assessing the benefits of medical research to society. See here for the 2008 report on cardiovascular diseases and mental health research and here for the 2014 report on cancer research.

For more information on these studies and other related work of the Academy please visit our page on Investing in Research

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