UK governments need set out a clear strategic vision to support research and innovation, including doing more to advertise opportunities for scientific researchers to access funding supplied by the European Union (EU), says Cancer Research UK (CRUK).
Researchers need encouragement to engage with all available funding mechanisms, the charity tells Ministers, in a new report which also urges governments to set out a vision for the different funding streams available to support infrastructure in the research environment, to reassure researchers and investors of their long-term support.
Recently-announced government plans for a research and innovation strategy should recognise the value of the range of medical research funders in the UK - charitable, public and private - and seek to encourage innovation via supportive infrastructure, a proportionate regulatory regime "and ensuring we continue to attract the very best people into medical research" - not least by ensuring that immigration policy is supportive of UK science, says the CRUK report, Building the Ideal Environment for Medical Research.
The charity also urges Ministers to take forward plans announced earlier this year for the creation of a new independent Health Research Agency, to streamline and improve the regulation and governance of health research in the UK, and also that an infrastructure strategy to enable access to and sharing of research data needs to be developed.
"The UK offers a high-quality, internationally-respected scientific research base that relies on support from the mixture of public, for-profit and charitable funders," says the report. "The UK is unique compared to the rest of Europe in the contribution of its medical research charities, with them funding over £1 billion of research annually. A key strength of this environment is the existence of the critical mass necessary to enable research to be conducted efficiently and successfully," it adds.
The report has been widely welcomed in the research community, with Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, saying his organisation "entirely endorses" it. "Our own researchers have told use that, despite [the UK] having potentiality the best environment for it in the world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to carry out timely and informative clinical research," he said.
"The continuing complexity of research regulation underlines a pressing need for the government to establish a single regulator that will speed up research. It will mean the UK remains at the forefront of medical research and NHS patients are the first to reap the benefits," said Prof Weissberg.
Nigel Gaymond, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association (BIA), noted that the report "reminds us of the importance of the funding mix" which "can help make the UK a uniquely brilliant place to develop new medicines," while Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering said: "the UK is incredibly privileged to have funders like Cancer Research UK supporting science here. If we want them to stick around, the government has to take practical steps to make this country a better place to do research - because you can bet that our competitor nations are going to, even if we don't."
CRUK chief executive Harpal Kumar added: "at a time when other countries are increasing their investment in science, it has never been more important to develop a sound science strategy that plays to our unique strengths in the UK, including the NHS, the research charities and our world-class universities, and that will enable us to remain competitive on the international stage."
- Cancer Research UK points out that it spent £332 million on research in 2010-11. In the UK, one in every six cancer patients is involved in research, representing 42,000 cancer patients per year, and three-quarters of these patients - more than 30,000 - are enrolled in a Cancer Research UK-funded trial, it adds.