By Aisling Burnand, Chief Executive, Association of Medical Research Charities 

Published: 17 June 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept through the UK, medical research charities have stepped up, working tirelessly to support the national research effort, the NHS and vulnerable patient communities. I am so proud of the invaluable contributions our member charities have made over the past few months. 

Never have they been more needed. 

And never have they been more at risk 

A staggering loss of income 

The pandemic has seen medical research charities’ income plummet. Athe UK went into lockdown charity shops were closed, fundraising events were cancelled, and donations were diverted to NHS charities 

AMRC members are reporting a 38% loss in fundraising income. This leaves many of our charities with no option but to pause or stop research, withdraw funding calls, furlough charity staff and make redundancies.

Whilst some charities are receiving funding from Government's £750 million support package, medical research charities have so far been overlooked. With no financial support in sight, AMRC charities are projecting an average 41% decrease in their research spend over the next year, a £252-£368 million shortfall.

Fewer opportunities to save and improve lives 

In first phase of the pandemic, 70% of clinical trials and studies funded by AMRC charities were stopped, paused or delayed. This meant thousands of patients were unable to participate in life-changing research. As lockdown restrictions lift, we will start to see trials and studies resume but some may never restart, their progress stalled by research funding cuts. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg, the impact of the pandemic will be felt by medical research charities and the patients they support for years to come.  

Many AMRC members are concerned they will be unable to fund future clinical trials and studies, and more than two thirds are deferring upcoming grant rounds and withdrawing future funding 

To add insult to injury, the sector’s funding cuts are likely to disproportionately disadvantage early career researchers like PhD students, post docs and fellows. This will have implications for the UK’s ability to attract research talent and global research leadership.  

It will take over four years for charity research spend to fully recover but a decade to rebuild what will be lost in terms of capacity and capability.  

Government must act now 

That’s why were urgently calling for Government to commit to our proposed Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund. This co-investment scheme would provide a level of match funding from Government for future charity research over the next three years. 

We’re asking for at least £310 million from Government in the financial year of 2020/21 to bridge the sector’s projected research spend gap. This would be matched by funding from charities to maintain consistent research investment. 

The fund will help preserve our member charities vital and unique contributions to the UK’s society and economy, allowing them to continue to... 

  • address unmet needs, funding research shaped by patients, carers and the public; 
  • de-risk early stage research so that other funders can deliver new treatments and products; 
  • invest in talent and skillsfunding the salaries of over 17,000 researchers; 
  • fund across the breadth of the UK so that research benefits every corner of the country; 
  • be innovative, collaborative, ambitious and focused on real patient needs. 

I hope that this fund might also catalyse philanthropists and industry to come forward and support charity-funded medical research. 

I urge Government to take heed and act nowTime is of the essence. By investing in charity-funded research, Government can help medical research charities deliver a better future for countless patients across the UK and contribute to economic growth.