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Cancer Research UK and British Heart Foundation warn Prime Minister they may have to cut £200m from research funding




Cancer Research UK could be forced to slash £150million per year from its research funding, while the British Heart Foundation anticipates cuts its spend by half from £100million to £50million due to the loss of income caused by Covid-19.

The desperate scenario has prompted more than 60 of the UK’s leading cardiovascular disease and cancer research scientists - many of them based in Cambridge - to write an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for urgent financial support for medical research charities.

Prof Richard Gilbertson, director of the Cambridge Cancer Centre, is among the signatories
Prof Richard Gilbertson, director of the Cambridge Cancer Centre, is among the signatories

Cancelled events, such as CRUK’s Race for Life, and closed charity shops have decimated income for the charities, which expect a reduction in research funding for the next three to five years.

In the letter, sent today (Tuesday), the scientists warn: “This will have a catastrophic and long-lasting impact on both cardiovascular and cancer research in the UK, but also on the broader R&D sector.”

They call for “swift action to invest in a Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund to protect the vital and unique contribution charity-funded biomedical research makes to the UK’s R&D ecosystem and the wider economy”.

Medical research charities invested £1.9 billion into UK research last year, with CRUK and the BHF alone funding more than half of all non-commercial research in the country into cancer and heart and circulatory diseases.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, BHF’s medical director, said: “Without immediate action, the UK’s research base faces a devastating fall in funding that will delay progress in discovering new ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases including heart attack, stroke and vascular dementia. We also risk losing a generation of promising young researchers and diminishing the UK’s standing as a world leader in science. We cannot afford to let this happen during a pandemic which has underlined the critical role science and research play in the UK’s healthcare and economy.

“The call for a Life Sciences - Charity Partnership Fund, now backed by many of the country’s most eminent scientists, is about far more than supporting charities. It would represent a government investment in UK research, returned many times over in terms of the world leading scientific discoveries it enables, the fuel it provides to the UK economy, and the lives that will be saved through the treatments and cures that will follow.

“With the Chancellor setting out a plan for the UK’s economic recovery tomorrow, stabilising UK science should be at the heart of it.”

Prof Greg Hannon, director of the CRUK Cambridge Institute, has signed the letter. Picture: Keith Heppell
Prof Greg Hannon, director of the CRUK Cambridge Institute, has signed the letter. Picture: Keith Heppell

The letter is signed by scientists including Professor Richard Gilbertson, Li Ka Shing chair of oncology, head of the Department of Oncology and director of the Cambridge Cancer Centre, and Prof Greg Hannon, Royal Society Wolfson research professor of cancer molecular biology and director of the CRUK Cambridge Institute at the University of Cambridge.

It adds: “For every £1 the BHF invests, its researchers attract £2.14 of additional funding. CRUK is the second largest licensor in oncology in the world – licences that underpin tomorrow’s medicines and today’s investment by companies such as AstraZeneca. Charities have led to the formation of over 40 spin-out companies, which in turn have raised over a £1bn in third party investment and the creation of thousands of jobs.”

The idea of a co-investment scheme that provides a level of match funding for future charity research over the next three to five years is supported by the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and 151 of its charity members.

The AMRC estimates a reduction in UK medical research investment of £310million this financial year.

BHF supports a portfolio of £446million of research at 47 UK institutions, including funding more than 1,700 researchers, hundreds of whom are in the early stages of their scientific career.

CRUK spent £422million on cancer research in 2018/19 and has 90 institutions in more than 40 UK towns and cities, including its major institute in Cambridge. It funds about 4,000 researchers in labs and hospitals across the UK, including more than 500 PhD students.

The letter warns Boris Johnson: “Without your support, the UK risks a slide backwards, undermining decades of pioneering and life saving research, as well as losing a generation of new researchers and a major decline in our nation’s international competitiveness in life sciences that we have worked so hard to achieve.”

Professor Ziad Mallat, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Cambridge, is among the signatories. Picture: Keith Heppell
Professor Ziad Mallat, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Cambridge, is among the signatories. Picture: Keith Heppell

Also among the signatories are Prof Martin Bennett, BHF professor of cardiovascular sciences at the University of Cambridge, Prof Jason Carroll, professor of molecular oncology and senior group leader at the CRUK Cambridge Institute, Prof John Danesh, of the University of Cambridge; Wellcome Sanger Institute and Health Data Research UK-Cambridge, Prof Gerard Evan, of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, Prof Kay-Tee Khaw of the University of Cambridge and Prof Ziad Mallat, BHF chair, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Cambridge.

The letter in full

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to you as experts and leaders in the fields of cardiovascular and cancer research, and as British Heart Foundation (BHF) and Cancer Research UK (CRUK) funded academics carrying out research at leading UK universities, research centres and institutes. We wish to highlight the significant impact COVID-19 has had on the medical research sector and to urge you to take swift action to invest in a Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund to protect the vital and unique contribution charity- funded biomedical research makes to the UK’s R&D ecosystem and the wider economy.

The biomedical research sector is key to the health and the wealth of the nation. We therefore welcomed the Government’s commitment to ‘make the UK the leading global hub for life sciences’. We believe that the sector can be one of the key engines that will help boost the UK economy through COVID-19 recovery, leaving the EU, and beyond. Recent funding announcements, such as the university research support scheme, are positive first steps to help achieve this ambition, but we remain concerned they will not fully address the significant shortfall in charity investment in the UK science base.

The funding provided by charities plays a unique role within the wider funding mix, supporting high- risk discovery science that drives the breakthroughs in our fields (and others), as well as de-risking projects to attract commercial investment and supporting clinical trials that bring the latest innovations and life-saving treatments to patients. Charity funding invests in skills and has supported many of us earlier in our careers, allowing us to continue to build our expertise within the UK system, adding to the strength of its research base and building the UK’s global reputation for research excellence.

However, both the BHF and CRUK are now seeing their incomes decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This will have a catastrophic and long-lasting impact on both cardiovascular and cancer research in the UK, but also on the broader R&D sector. CRUK could be forced to cut £150 million per year from its research funding, and the BHF anticipates having to cut its research spend by half this year from £100 million to around £50 million. This means a significantly lower investment in life saving high quality research, in skills and in infrastructure.

To put this challenge into context, last year, medical research charities invested £1.9 billion in research in the UK. CRUK and BHF alone funded 50% and 55% of all UK-based independent research into cancer and heart and circulatory diseases respectively – something that will not be possible to maintain for the foreseeable future. Given that level of contribution, such a drastic reduction in their capacity to fund research will have a dramatic impact on the national investment in research in two key areas of unmet medical need.

Moreover, this reduction will have a knock-on impact on our partners in industry and on the inward investment into the UK life science sector. For example, for every £1 the BHF invests, its researchers attract £2.14 of additional funding. CRUK is the second largest licensor in oncology in the world – licences that underpin tomorrow’s medicines and today’s investment by companies such as AstraZeneca. Charities have led to the formation of over 40 spin out companies, which in turn have raised over a £1bn in third party investment and the creation of thousands of jobs. The Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) estimates a reduction in UK medical research investment of £310 million this financial year alone which will severely impact the UK’s internationally recognised strength in the life sciences.

While charities are doing all they can to support existing research, we are gravely concerned for the future of biomedical research in the UK, and we fear that the latest research support package will not go far enough to plug the funding gap charities are facing. We urge you to support the proposal from CRUK and the BHF, as well as 151 other medical research charities and AMRC, to work in partnership with the sector to establish a Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund. This co-investment scheme is urgently needed to help protect and invest in world-class research across the UK’s four nations, whose quality is assured through a stringent peer-review process, and could provide matched funding from Government for future charity research over the next 3-5 years (the period in which funding is expected to be most acutely affected).

Without your support, the UK risks a slide backwards, undermining decades of pioneering and life saving research, as well as losing a generation of new researchers and a major decline in our nation’s international competitiveness in life sciences that we have worked so hard to achieve. This will diminish our reputation as a world-leader in developing medical breakthroughs that save lives lost to cancer, heart and circulatory diseases and countless other conditions. We ask that you reaffirm your commitment to science and research by investing to support medical research charities in this time of need.

Signed,

  • Professor Gianni D Angelini, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiac Surgery, Bristol University
  • Professor Andrew H Baker, BHF Professor of Translational Cardiovascular Sciences and Gustav Born Chair of Vascular Biology, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Frances Balkwill (OBE, FMedSci), Tumour Microenvironment Centre, Barts Cancer Institute - a Cancer Research UK Centre of Excellence, Queen Mary University of London P
  • Professor Martin R Bennett (MA, PhD, FRCP, FMedSci), BHF Professor of Cardiovascular Sciences, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Mark Beresford (MA (cantab) BMBch DM (oxon) MRCP FRCR), Consultant Oncologist and Clinical Lead for Oncology and Haematology, Royal United Hospital Bath; and Visiting Chair, University of Bath
  • Professor Shoumo Bhattacharya (MD MSc FRCP FESC FMedSci), Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine; BHF Chair; and Fellow of Green Templeton College, University of Oxford
  • Professor Robert Bristow (MD PhD FRCPC FMedSci), Director, Manchester Cancer Research Centre; Chief Academic Officer and Honorary Consultant, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust Professor Massimo Caputo, BHF Professor of Congenital Heart Surgery, University of Bristol
  • Professor Neil Carragher, Professor of Drug Discovery and Director of Translation, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Jason Carroll, Professor of Molecular Oncology, Senior Group Leader, CRUK Cambridge Institute
  • Professor Barbara Casadei (MD DPhil FRCP FMedSci FAHA FESC), British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine; President of the European Society of Cardiology; and Cardiovascular Theme Leader, NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, University of Oxford
  • Professor Keith Channon (FRCP FMedSci), British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Deputy Head of Medical Sciences Division (Research), University of Oxford
  • Professor Sir Rory Collins (FRS FMedSci FRCP), CEO and Principal Investigator, UK Biobank; BHF Professor of Medicine & Epidemiology; and Head, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford
  • Professor John Danesh, BHF Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine; Director, BHF Cardiovascular Epidemiology Unit; Head, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge; Faculty Member, Wellcome Sanger Institute; and Director, Health Data Research UK-Cambridge
  • Professor the Lord Ara Darzi of Denham (OM, KBE, PC, FRS), Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London
  • Professor David Eisner, BHF Professor of Cardiac Physiology, The University of Manchester Professor Costanza Emanueli, British Heart Foundation Chair of Cardiovascular Science, National Heart & Lung Institute, Imperial College London
  • Professor Tariq Enver (DPhil), Interim Director, University College London Cancer Institute and Vice Dean for Research, UCL Faculty of Medical Sciences
  • Professor Gerard Evan (MA., Ph.D., FRS, FMedSci, FAACR), Head of Department, Sir William Dunn Professor of Biochemistry, Sanger Building, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Mathias Gautel (MD PhD, FMedSci), BHF Chair of Molecular Cardiology and Head, School of Basic and Medical Biosciences, Randall Centre for Cell and Molecular Biophysics, King's College London
  • Professor Richard Gilbertson (MBBS, PhD), Li Ka Shing Chair of Oncology, Head of Department of Oncology and Director, Cambridge Cancer Centre
  • Professor Charlie Gourley, Professor and Honorary Consultant in Medical Oncology; Clinical Director, Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre and Director, Nicola Murray Centre for Ovarian Cancer Research, Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor George B Hanna (FRCS, PhD), Head of Department of Surgery & Cancer, Imperial College London
  • Professor Gregory Hannon (PhD, FRS, FMedSci, FAACR), Royal Society Wolfson Research Professor of Cancer Molecular Biology and Director, CRUK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Mark Hanson, British Heart Foundation Professor and Director, Institute of Developmental Sciences, University of Southampton
  • Professor Sian E. Harding, Professor of Cardiac Pharmacology, Imperial College London and Director, BHF Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine Centre
  • Professor Aroon Hingorani, Director, UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science and UCL BHF Research Accelerator
  • Professor Daniel Hochhauser (DPhil, FRCP), Kathleen Ferrier Professor of Medical Oncology, Clinical Director, CRUK UCL Centre
  • Professor Kairbaan Hodivala-Dilke (PhD, FMedSci), Deputy Director of Barts Cancer Institute & CRUK Barts Centre. Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London
  • Professor Peter Johnson (MB Bchir, MA, MRCP, MD, FRCP), Professor of Medical Oncology, Cancer Research UK Centre, Southampton General Hospital
  • Professor Mark Kearney, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular and Diabetes Research and Dean of Medicine, University of Leeds
  • Professor Bernard Keavney (BSc BM BCh DM FRCP), British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, The University of Manchester and Consultant Cardiologist, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust
  • Professor Kay-Tee Khaw (FMedSci FRCP), University of Cambridge
  • Professor James Larkin (FRCP PhD F Med Sci), Medical Oncologist, Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and Institute of Cancer Research
  • Professor Deborah A Lawlor, Professor of Epidemiology, University of Bristol
  • Professor Nick Lemoine (MD PhD FMedSci), Director of Barts Cancer Institute & Barts CR-UK Centre, Queen Mary University of London
  • Professor Xin Lu (FRS, FMedSci, FRCPath, FRSB, PhD), Director, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research; Co-Director, CRUK Oxford Centre and Cancer Theme Lead, Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC)
  • Professor Ziad Mallat (MD, PhD, FMedSci), BHF Chair, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Richard Marais (FRS FMedSci MAE), Director, CRUK Manchester Institute and Professor of Molecular Oncology, University of Manchester
  • Professor Federica Marelli-Berg (MD PhD), British Heart Foundation Chair of Cardiovascular Immunology and Head, Centre for Biochemical Pharmacology, Heart Centre, William Harvey Research Institute, Barts and The London SMD
  • Professor Manuel Mayr, BHF Professor of Cardiovascular Proteomics, King's College London
  • Professor Iain McNeish, Chair in Oncology; Head of the Division of Cancer and Director Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre, Imperial College London
  • Professor Gary Middleton, Professor of Medical Oncology, University of Birmingham
  • Professor Mark Middleton (PhD, FRCP), Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine, University of Oxford
  • Professor Nicholas Morrell, BHF Professor of Cardiopulmonary Medicine and Director, Cambridge Heart and Lung Research Institute
  • Professor Gavin Murphy, British Heart Foundation Chair of Cardiac Surgery, University of Leicester; Director, Leicester Clinical Trials Unit and Honorary Consultant Cardiac Surgeon, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust
  • Professor David E. Newby, British Heart Foundation Duke of Edinburgh Chair of Cardiology; Director, Edinburgh Clinical Research Facility; and Director, Edinburgh Imaging, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Sir Paul Nurse (FRS), Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine 2001, Director of the Francis Crick Institute
  • Professor Kinya Otsu (MD, PhD, FMedSci), BHF Chair of Cardiology, King’s College London Professor Peter Parker (FRS), Professor of Cancer Cell Biology and Director of the CRUK KHP Centre
  • Professor Sven Plein (MD, PhD, FRCP), British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Imaging; Professor of Cardiology University of Leeds; Head of the Department of Biomedical Imaging Science, Leeds; Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine, University of Leeds and Consultant Cardiologist & Clinical Lead for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Professor Ruth Plummer (PhD), Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine, Newcastle University
  • Professor Paul R. Riley, BHF Professor of Regenerative Medicine, University of Oxford
  • Professor Owen Sansom (MRes, PhD), Director, Institute of Cancer Sciences, Beatson Institute for Cancer Research
  • Professor Ajay Shah, BHF Professor of Cardiology and Director, King's College London BHF Centre of Research Excellence
  • Professor Charles Swanton (FRCP BSc PhD), CRUK Chief Clinician; Director, CRUK Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence and Senior Group Leader, The Francis Crick Institute
  • Professor Ian Tomlinson (FRCPath, FMedSci, FRS), Director, Edinburgh CR-UK Cancer Research Centre
  • Professor Rhian Touyz, British Heart Foundation Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine and Director, Institute of Cardiovascular & Medical Sciences, BHF Glasgow Cardiovascular Research Centre, University of Glasgow
  • Professor Sir Richard Treisman (FRS), Director of Research, The Francis Crick Institute Professor Karen Vousden (CBE, FRS, FRSE), Senior Group Leader, The Crick Institute and Chief Scientist, Cancer Research UK
  • Professor Hugh Watkins (FRS), Radcliffe Professor of Medicine and BHF Chair holder, University of Oxford
  • Professor Steve P Watson, BHF Chair in Cardiovascular Sciences and Cellular Pharmacology, University of Birmingham
  • Professor Martin Wilkins, Vice Dean (Research), Faculty of Medicine and Director, British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence, Imperial College London
  • Professor Paul Workman (FRS), Chief Executive and President, The Institute of Cancer Research

Cc:

Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

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