Research Councils UK recently published a strategy that aims to maximise the value of the research it funds. The document - Increasing the Economic Impact of the Research Councils - describes how the eight Research Councils will work with research users, public funders and other organisations to ensure that the UK can make best use of its research base.

The eight Research Councils invest around £2.8 billion annually in research and training, which supports tens of thousands of researchers in universities and research institutions across the UK. While this funds research from arts to zoology, many projects impact on pharma. For example, monoclonal antibodies “revolutionised biomedical research and have given rise to new classes of drugs for treating cancer, arthritis and asthma, generating a global market in antibodies exceeding £6 billion per annum," the report notes.

Furthermore, in 2006, the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) launched a major £15 million programme aimed at improving the manufacture of biopharmaceuticals. The programme is being run in conjunction with 18 pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Both Councils will continue to invest in this programme in 2007 and 2008, the report comments.

Stimulus for multi-disciplinary research

Launched in 2002, the RCUK aims to increase the councils' collective visibility, leadership and policy influence; to stimulate multi-disciplinary research; and “provide a single focus for collective dialogue with stakeholders and to encourage greater harmonisation of internal operations."

The RCUK now plans to create a new national forum for knowledge transfer that brings “together all the major players to pull in the same direction." They also plan to commission “major studies” to evaluate the economic impact made by the Councils' investments, as well as biennial surveys to ensure that investments and activities align with users' needs.

"As the biggest single funder of public research in the UK, the Research Councils willingly take on the task of encouraging and focusing the changes in the research base needed to position the UK to face the challenge posed by the emerging economies,” said Professor Philip Esler, Chief Executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, who will drive through the changes. “We interpret economic impact broadly to encompass the social, cultural as well as financial benefits that can flow from the research base. These benefits can emerge from all academic disciplines, from the arts to astrophysics and sociology to zoology, and all eight Research Councils will be pulling together to realise those benefits." Mark Greener