Published: 19 December 2022

By Lord Sharkey, AMRC Chair 2015-2022

Over 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I became deeply interested in survival rates and how they compared with other European countries. I was dismayed to discover we lagged behind most of our neighbours. I began to raise the issue in the House of Lords and to encourage the Government to do something about the situation. And in the course of my research and conversations with Government, I learned a lot of about and got to know many of our member charities. I was deeply impressed by what they were doing and it was suggested to me that I should consider widening my interest and applying for the about to be vacant Chair of the AMRC. I was delighted to get the job and to get to know the AMRC and the work of its 150 or so members.

I remember being impressed by the dedication of its trustees and its staff, and by its then CEO Aisling Burnand.

The UK medical research funding ecosystem is unique. Medical research charities contribute about £1.6 billion each year to research, mostly through UK universities. This is as much as the government itself spends on medical research.

Getting to know the AMRC, what it did and to what effect, was a pleasure and remained a pleasure for the whole of my term as Chair. There were difficulties of course. The period of austerity after 2010 was a hardship for patients, for members and for the health services. Brexit didn’t help, with the uncertainty it generated and continues to generate about replacing EU research funding. And COVID very definitely didn’t help, with the huge increase in demand for health services and a marked decline in the income for our member charities. Political turmoil, of which there seems to have been an awful lot in the past seven years, didn’t help either.

The AMRC and its members responded magnificently to all these challenges. I think it’s true to say that in those years, we were forced to become a stronger advocate, more modern and more progressive in our thinking and more focused, especially putting the patients’ interest at the heart of what we did.

There was also a paradoxical benefit to the difficulties of the last few years. We became more visible, more listened to and more consulted in Government and in Whitehall, as a result of our campaign to protect medical research spending by Government.

I have been lucky during my seven years as Chair to work with such an outstanding team at the AMRC. I want to pay special tribute to Aisling Burnand, my friend and colleague for six of those years. Her leadership, enthusiasm and drive were quite exceptional. I was very lucky to work with her and was deeply upset by her untimely death. And I’d also like to thank all my other AMRC colleagues. I will miss them, but am comforted by the fact that in my successor as Chair, Louise Wood, and in Aisling’s successor as CEO, Nicola Perrin, we have a truly remarkable team to carry on promoting our interests, fighting for research spending and putting the interests of patients at the heart of everything the AMRC does.