Medical and health research charities in the UK are being hit hard by the recession and urgently need help from the government and public donors to ride out the downturn, says the umbrella organisation for the sector.

A membership survey by the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) has revealed that fewer than one tenth of respondents (9.3%) expect to increase their research funding in 2009-2010, while just over half (51.9%) plan to maintain funding at the same level as last year and about a quarter (25.9%) intend to reduce funding.

Member charities that plan to curtail research funding in 2009-2010 are reckoning on cuts of between 10% and 40%, the AMRC noted. In 2008-2009 AMRC members spent an estimated £936 million on research compared with £826 million over the previous 12 months.

While the AMRC acknowledged the impact of the recession on available funds, it urged the government to:

- Maintain investment in science and medical research

- Commit to the long-term future of the Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF, allocated by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to support research funded by charities at universities)

- Release funds already committed for the CRSF in 2009 and 2010

- Create a better regulatory, value added tax (VAT) and tax environment for medical research charities

- Encourage public funders to co-fund and collaborate more with research partners across the sector

“These are uncertain times for medical research charities,” commented AMRC chief executive Simon Denegri. “AMRC’s survey suggests that while charity funding across the whole spectrum of medical and health research in the UK is being impacted by the downturn, smaller charities funding work into less common conditions are being hit particularly hard.”

For example, the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign has invested more than £50 million in basic research since the charity was formed and says it is “on the cusp of a number of major potential advances”, with six clinical trials in the UK alone and many more underway elsewhere.

Yet, added chief executive Philip Butcher, this year the Campaign is having to reduce its research budget by 15% to balance its books. “Who knows what will happen next year?”, he asked.