The UK is a world leader in medical research, with a vibrant research and innovation ecosystem in which public investment leverages significant charity and private investment.
However, we must not take this for granted.The UK invests a lower proportion of our national wealth in R&D than many other leading scientific nations. The Academy believes the UK should increase combined public and private investment in R&D to 3% of GDP.
To support this ambition, we seek to provide evidence of that demonstrates the societal and economic benefits of investing in research. For example:
"Every £1 invested in medical research delivers a return equivalent to around 25p every year, for ever."
Increasing overall investment in R&D is essential to keep the UK at the forefront of medical research and unlock the benefits of R&D for all, but to deliver the full benefits of this investment we must ensure the regulatory environment facilitates high-quality studies and aligns with robust ethical principles.
“The Academy leads the way in bringing key players together, allowing different sectors to identify areas of common concern and to find a way to fix problems. The introduction of a better regulatory framework for health research has been a major boost to UK science and would not have happened without the hard work of the Academy.” Sir David Cooksey GBE FMedSci, Founding Chairman of The Francis Crick Institute
Spending Review 2021
Biomedical and health research has been at the heart of the UK's response to COVID-19 and will be central to our social and economic recovery. However, the UK science base has been damaged by the pandemic, which has exposed long-term weaknesses as well as creating new obstacles. .
The Academy recommends the following principles to guide UK Government investment in medical research at this Spending Review:
- Increase certainty through long-term, stable and predictable funding
- Maintain balance across the UK’s interconnected research ecosystem, protecting the whole system by ensuring that no key parts fall behind
- Utilise research to level up across the UK and enhance the UK’s international partnerships and reputation
Specifically, the Academy proposes a range of policy recommendations for this Spending Review, including:
- Set out clear, consistent steps to reach investment £22bn in research and development by 2024/25
- Commit to providing long-term, real terms increases to the core research budgets of the seven research councils and the budget of the NIHR
- Ensure the UK’s medical research charities and world-class universities can continue to play their unique and vital roles in the research ecosystem
- Invest in NHS research by funding a pilot for NHS consultants to be offered a contract that includes dedicated time for research
- Invest in the UK’s international Research and Development partnerships
- Commit to covering the cost of UK participation in Horizon Europe without cutting the existing science budget
For the full list of recommendations and all supporting evidence, see our full representation to the Spending Review on the right-hand side of this page.
For information on our work surrounding UK participation in Horizon Europe please see our European policy work section.
Official Development Assistance (ODA)
Following the Government’s decision to temporarily reduce the Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget, from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP, the Academy of Medical Sciences has been asked to cease all calls for new ODA activity, and to prioritise existing activity. We have now confirmed to our grant awardees that the cuts to the ODA research and development (R&D) budget will not impact their active award in FY21/22. However, the cuts mean that we are unable to open any further rounds of our Newton International Fellowship, Newton Advanced Fellowship or Networking Grant schemes for the time being.
These cuts – which have impacted some organisations’ funding commitments even more than our own – pose a serious risk to the UK’s global leadership in science and research. Even a temporary reduction in funding for ODA-funded R&D programmes will compromise the ability of the UK to act as a leader in addressing global challenges and building capacity in research talent, particularly at a time when COVID-19 has demonstrated the critical need for global collaboration.
Our President wrote to the Foreign Secretary with the Presidents of the other National Academies, ahead of the decision to reduce the ODA budget, and continues to advocate for the protection and growth of global R&D partnerships. You can download the letter on the right-hand side of this page.
In May 2021 we responded to the House of Commons’ International Development Select Committee inquiry into the future of UK aid. Our response evidences the important contribution of research and innovation to the Government’s ODA priorities, and describes the impacts of the recent ODA cuts on the Academy, medical research, and the UK’s international reputation.
Medical science is at the heart of the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and will be central to our collective recovery – not just by offering a way out of the pandemic, enabling the UK economy to fully restart, but by directly stimulating the economy across the UK through new jobs, investments and long-term health benefits. Every £1 invested in medical research delivers a return equivalent to around 25p every year, forever.
However, COVID-19 is currently threatening the foundations of UK success in research and development (R&D): stalling researchers’ careers; drastically limiting funding for life-saving and -improving projects; postponing clinical trials; and ultimately delaying improved outcomes for patients. To avoid long-term damage and continue reaping the benefits of medical research in years to come, it is crucial Government invest strategically now. This means:
- Strategic funding of association to Horizon Europe to complement R&D investments and ensure 2.4% of GDP is spent on R&D by 2027
- Critical support for charity-funded medical research
- Maintaining our global R&D presence
- Enabling local R&D through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund
- Investing in research to underpin better public health
You can read and download the full representation on the right-hand side of this page.
Spending Review 2020
COVID-19 has put all parts of society under significant financial strain and the 2020 Spending Review is an opportunity to invest in the UK’s social and economic recovery. Supporting the life sciences will be crucial on both fronts: for improving patient outcomes and helping the NHS rapidly recover; to creating high-paying jobs and levelling up research infrastructure across the UK.
The full extent of these benefits will only be possible if the research landscape has long-term certainty. We have joined with charities, companies and other organisations across the life sciences sector to call for strategic investment in research over multiple years, so it can continue to help the UK recover from COVID-19. This includes:
- Bolstering the budgets of key research funding bodies, to help Government reach their goal of investing £22bn in research and development (R&D) by 2024/25
- Supporting charities through a significant drop in funding, so they can keep playing their essential role in the funding landscape
- Investing in the infrastructure and workforce that will make the UK a destination of choice for clinical research
You can read and download the full statement on the right-hand side of this page.
There is broad consensus across the political spectrum to increase total investment in UK research and development (R&D).
The Government has committed to investing £22 billion in R&D by 2024 – 25 as part of a target of 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and 3% in the longer-term. A wide-ranging R&D roadmap has been published to help shape and deliver this agenda.
To deliver an overall increase in R&D investment, the UK needs to foster research and innovation throughout public services, universities and businesses, and attract global investment, incentivising companies to locate their R&D here. Only by doing this will we enable research and innovation to help improve the health and wealth of the country.
We have worked with the Royal Society, the British Academy and the Royal Academy of Engineering to outline the investment landscape in 2018, why £22 billion and the longer-term 3% target is important and factors that should be considered to deliver it.
The UK Government have committed to increase investment in research and development (R&D) in the UK to at least 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Delivering this will need significant increases in investment from both public and private sources. UKRI delivers the majority of public funding for research and innovation in the UK. It will play a central role in realising the UK Government’s ambition.
The national Academies have produced an explainer summarising UKRI’s structure, governance and operation to support discussion over how this funding is distributed.
On 19 February 2021, the UK Government announced the creation of a new body to fund high-risk and potentially high-reward research: the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA). The Academy welcomes the addition of ARIA to the research ecosystem and you can read our President's response to the announcement.
The Academy is committed to facilitating a proportionate and streamlined system for the regulation and governance of health research.
We will continue to guide the implementation of recommendations contained in our report 'A new pathway for the regulation and governance of health research'. Working with other stakeholders, we will also seek to identify areas of regulatory uncertainties arising from scientific developments and ensure that any system changes are sufficiently future-proofed.
- Influencing the development of Health Research Authority through the Collaboration and Development Forum and monitoring the roll out of HRA Approval
- Contributing to the development of EU Medical Devices Regulation as they go through the legislative processes
- Monitoring the implementation of EU Clinical Trials Regulation and EU Data Protection Regulation
Establishing the HRA
Ahead of the UK general election in 2010 the Academy raised serious concerns that the UK regulatory environment was hampering research for patient benefit. As a result, the Government commissioned the Academy to undertake a comprehensive review of UK health research regulation. Based on over 300 written evidence submissions, the report laid out a regulatory overhaul to widespread support from researchers, funders and patients. Our review led to the establishment of the Health Research Authority in primary legislation, streamlining regulatory processes that had previously delayed research.
The Academy has continued to champion a proportionate approach to the regulation and governance of health research in areas such as clinical trials and medical devices, and to highlight where regulation aimed at preventing the misuse of drugs is hampering research into treatments for unmet need.
We work in partnership to provide evidence of the benefits of investing in research and innovation.
We jointly funded a series of evaluations of economic return from medical research. Together they show that every £1 invested in medical research delivers a return equivalent to around 25p every year, for ever. The most recent of these studies (jointly funded by Arthritis Research UK, Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council and Department of Health) examined the return on public and charitable investment in research into musculoskeletal conditions. A summary is available here and the full research paper is published online.
In addition, the National Academies recognise the need to better understand:
- the range of benefits that research and innovation bring to the UK
- the distribution of those benefits across the country and its population
- how those benefits are achieved
- how best to measure them
In order to address these questions, the Academies assembled a Steering Group to oversee the commissioning of two evidence syntheses to build the evidence base on the impact of investing in UK research and innovation.