Published: 1 September 2020

Over 30 top pharmaceutical and health tech companies have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister urging Government to provide financial support for medical research charities.

The Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund, developed by the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), has support from the likes of AstraZeneca, Roche and Eli Lilly. All are calling on Government to bridge the projected £310 million shortfall in charity research investment.

The open letter urges the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to provide three years of matched funding via the proposed fund to protect the vital and unique contributions of charity research to the UK’s health and economy. 

Charities provide significant R&D investment in the UK, spending £14 billion on research since 2008. They account for half of publicly funded medical research nationally and are crucial to attracting private investment, stimulating over £196 million in further funding from the private sector since 2005.

The suspension of many fundraising activities and shop closures due to COVID-19 has had an immediate and severe impact on charities’ income, forcing them to cut their research spend by 41% over the next year.

The letter warns that this will have a knock-on effect on essential private R&D investment, posing an even greater risk to Government’s goal to increase R&D expenditure to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

Aisling Burnand MBE, CEO of the Association of Medical Research Charities said:

“The UK is fortunate to have a range of vibrant medical research charities that add to the country’s life sciences R&D funding mix and this sector must be protected in the aftermath of COVID-19.

“Charity research provides the foundations for commercial research. You cannot support the latter without the former.

“By investing in charity-funded research, Government can help medical research charities deliver a better future for patients across the UK, protect the UK’s research skills and capabilities and contribute to economic growth.”

Sir Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President of BioPharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca said:

“Medical research charities are an important part of the research landscape in the UK.

“Scientists from companies such as AstraZeneca work closely with many medical charities. Such collaborations help to advance scientific understanding of disease and the development of new medicines for patients who need them most.

“We support this initiative to ensure the continued sustainability of charity funded research in the UK.”

Richard Erwin, General Manager at Roche Products Limited said:

“Medical research charities play a vital role in UK life sciences, funding early-stage, high-risk research and attracting essential international talent to boost the UK’s skills pipeline.  However, their ability to continue to do this is under threat.

“We believe that the UK can become the global leader in life sciences, and medical research charities are a key ingredient in achieving this. The proposed Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund should be developed immediately to ensure charities’ unique contributions are not lost as the UK begins its economic recovery.”

Editor’s Notes

Association of Medical Research Charities

For media enquiries contact Carol Bewick, Director of Communications and Membership Engagement ([email protected], 020 8078 6059) or Leonora Neale, Communications Manager ([email protected], 020 8078 6044).

The Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) has over 150 member charities that fund all stages of research - from basic science projects to clinical trials - in all areas of health and disease throughout the UK and overseas. They vary considerably in size, but each plays a vital role in the UK life sciences and economy.

As the UK went into lockdown charity shops were closed, fundraising events were cancelled, and donations were diverted to NHS charities. AMRC charities reported a 38% loss in fundraising income, leaving many with no option but to pause or stop research, withdraw funding calls, furlough charity staff and make redundancies.

At the end of April 73% (801 of 1,102) of clinical trials and studies funded by AMRC charities had been paused. As lockdown restrictions have lifted, we’ve started to see trials and studies resume, with the number of paused studies and trials dropping to 54% (540 of 996). However, some may never restart due to charities’ research funding cuts.

More than two thirds of AMRC charities are deferring upcoming grant rounds and withdrawing future funding. The impact of the pandemic will be felt by medical research charities and the patients they support for years to come.

Steve Bates OBE, Chief Executive, BioIndustry Association said:

“Medical research charities play a pivotal part in the UK life sciences sector’s ecosystem, and often partner with, and develop talent that works in smaller UK companies, particularly in early stage research.

“If research charities are unable to continue their vital role the knock on effects will be felt in the broader commercial life sciences ecosystem, impacting our collective ability to be at the heart of global efforts to find innovative treatments and be a driver of UK economic growth.  

“We support the AMRC’s call to fill the funding gap caused by lockdown in the COVID-19 pandemic which has had an acute impact on research charity income and clinical trial timelines.”

Richard Torbett, Chief Executive, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said:

“Medical research charities are a key strength of UK’s life sciences and advances in research depend on collaboration between industry, academia, the NHS and charities, with each playing a unique role.

“Our companies partner everyday with research charities who offer expert insights from their patient communities, which help to make sure that research and treatments maximise the benefits to patients.

“It is vital that our health research charities are supported through this challenging period if we are to achieve our long-term ambitions for UK life sciences.”