Medical research charities are “becoming ever more strategic and focused in the way they fund research in the UK”, says Simon Denegri, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC).

He was commenting on a new analysis of research spending by 29 AMRC member charities that was published to coincide with AMRC’s Annual General Meeting and Conference in London. Conducted by the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) in partnership with AMRC, the review – From Donation to Innovation: an analysis of health research funded by medium- and smaller-sized medical research charities – found that around half of the combined funds are targeted at aetiology research into the cause and development of diseases and conditions.

Just 12% of the participating charities’ funds go on ‘underpinning’ research aimed at understanding normal function. By contrast, the UK Health Research Analysis, a review of the research portfolios of the 11 largest government and charity health research funders in the UK published by the UKCRC in May 2006, found that one third of these organisations’ funds were spent on aetiology research and another third on underpinning research.

In the latest analysis, which builds on last year’s report to encompass nearly three-quarters of the research expenditure by remaining AMRC members not included in the May 2006 review, the majority of participating charities also spent the largest proportion of their funds supporting aetiology research.

Specific disease areas

Moreover, a breakdown of spending across health categories revealed that 93.7% of the combined funds were focused on specific disease areas, while just 6.3% were spent on generic research applicable to all diseases or relevant to general health/well-being. In the original analysis, which included the portfolios of the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation (all AMRC members), 25% of combined funds went on generic research.

In keeping with the methodology developed for the UK Health Research Analysis, the new review examines directly funded peer-reviewed research awards made in the UK between 1 April 2004 and 31 March 2005. It does not include research support costs such as administration and capital expenditure. The 1,496 research awards covered in the report amount to total expenditure of £63.7 million (€91.4 million) for the 2004-05 financial year on research projects, programmes and training in the UK.

The full report can be downloaded from the UKCRC's website at www.ukcrc.org.