By Dr Cat Ball, Policy Manager, AMRC

Published: 23 July 2018

Roadmaps are a thing these days. The latest in management-speak hype, everyone seems to have one. It’s not enough to simply have a ‘strategy’ or - sharp intake of breath - something as simple as a ‘plan’.

When we talk about roadmaps, I don’t immediately think of a corporate environment. Instead, I’m reminded of the playmat roadmap I had as a kid, where I’d control all the cars in the town and make them race or crash or get stuck in traffic jams.

One roadmap is particularly important to the UK’s research base at the moment. To achieve the key commitment in Government’s Industrial Strategy to reach 2.4% of UK GDP invested in R&D by 2027, a roadmap is underway. Thinking of this in terms of my childhood playmat, the funders in the UK’s research base are the vehicles on the road, and the underpinning government policy landscape for R&D provides the roads and infrastructure.

To reach the 2.4%, Government need to make sure the roadmap makes the most of all the vehicles on the road and every type of new infrastructure they can build. 

Where does the road start?

Recent Government funding announcements mean that there will be an extra £7 billion[1] of public money for science and research by 2021/22. This is the biggest uplift in government science spending for decades. And more could be in store as a result of the Industrial Strategy 2.4% commitment. It’s not an overstatement to say that where and how this money is spent has the potential to transform the UK’s science and research base. The roads and routes whereby UK funders invest in research could be significantly changed.

Achieving such a game-changing increase in R&D investment will require things to be done a bit differently. More of the same in terms of research policy isn’t enough. New levers and drivers are required to get us there. We need to remove some of the speed bumps and build high-speed motorways.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), have some big decisions to make. UK spending on R&D currently sits around 1.7% of GDP. Reaching the magic 2.4% - the OECD[2] average – will require a significant amount of new investment from across the UK’s R&D base. According to the Campaign for Science and Engineering, in current terms, achieving 2.4% would mean an increase to the science budget of around £6.8 billion.

Of course, reaching this target requires more than Government investment – if the current ratios of public: private investment remain, then 2/3 will come from the private sector. According to estimates this could mean an extra £7.7 billion of private investment.

But, so far this makes for a roadmap with some of the vehicles missing. The UK’s medical research charity sector also has a role to play in plans to boost investment in R&D. According to AMRC’s annual data collection, the charity sector collectively invested £1.6 billion in UK medical research last year. While significant, this looks small when you consider it in terms of GDP – around 0.09% according to estimates.[3] Charities are more of a Smart car than a pharmaceutical industry juggernaut. However, the stats don’t tell the full story. Charities also pave the way for investment from others – often funding early stage studies that de-risk areas of research for investment from industry. Charities also spark collaborations, bringing funders together centred around patient need, to invest in consortia and partnerships. We may be small, but we have a significant impact on the traffic.

How are AMRC planning to get there?

To ensure that the roadmap recognises the medical research charity sector and includes ways to amplify our contributions to UK R&D, AMRC are kicking off a new project. This will aim to identify opportunities for the sector and develop new ways to boost charity R&D investment.  We’re planning to develop recommendations, including new Government-charity partnerships, to harness the potential of medical research charities.

Starting this summer, our project seeks to include expertise from innovative charity R&D funding; investment and asset management; charity tax; law; and life science businesses. We want to think about a range of different ways that could amplify and provide support to medical research charity investment in R&D – and investment from the public too. New fiscal incentives, novel Government-charity partnerships and innovative ways for the public to give to medical research are some of the new road infrastructures we’ll be exploring.   

What does the end of the road look like?

One notable absence from the Government’s 2.4% commitment is what the destination looks like. Where does the roadmap go? At a place with more money for R&D of course, but what does this mean? For AMRC and our members, this means more ground-breaking research with the potential to bring new treatments and therapies that improve patient outcomes. Investing in research is important, but we have to make sure it means something. The patient-centric approaches that some of AMRC’s members adopt mean that research has a clear purpose and link to unmet need. Ensuring charities are part of the roadmap will not only contribute to boosting investment in R&D but also help ensure that new money for medical research is being spent in a way that reflects what patients want.  We know where we’re going; charities have satnav.

[1] The £7 billion comes from the £4.7 billion by 2020/21 announced at Autumn Statement 2016 and a further £2.3 billion by 2021/22 announced at Budget 2017.

[2] The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental economic organisation with 36 member countries.