Published: 28 October 2020

Four in 10 (40 per cent) charity-funded early career scientists have considered leaving research due to funding concerns since the coronavirus hit the UK, according to a survey by the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC).

The survey of 523 scientists funded by 72 charities also shows that 28 per cent have considered leaving due to a lack of career prospects, and 19 per cent had considered an exit from research due to Brexit.

The pandemic has had a devastating financial impact on medical research charities, which face cuts to their research investment of 41 per cent over the next year alone - a predicted £310m shortfall in support for life-saving discoveries.

The AMRC, backed by leading charities including the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK, is urging the Government to protect the UK’s position as a global leader in science and avoid a science brain drain by introducing a Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund. The proposal would see the Government support charities’ investment in UK research for the next three years.

Aisling Burnand, Chief Executive of AMRC said: “Medical research charities are facing a catastrophic funding crisis and are having to decide where future research will need to be cut. Although Government has introduced a £750m support package for charities, no funding for charitable medical research has been given.

“Funding uncertainties mean that without clarity from the Government and a commitment to support for three years, we risk losing a generation of talented young scientists who would otherwise have become the UK’s next research leaders. Ultimately this could have a severe impact on several decades of research crucial to finding new ways to diagnose, manage and treat diseases including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, rare diseases and neurodegenerative disorders.”

Medical research charities fund the salaries of around 17,000 UK scientists. Funding uncertainties mean many could be forced to leave the profession, with two thirds of those surveyed relying entirely on charity funding for their salary.

According to the survey, thousands of charity-funded early career researchers could face a funding cliff edge. Half say their funding will expire by the end of 2021, and of these, two thirds have been unable to secure funding to take them to the next stage in their career.

The results also showed a staggering divide across the country. Those within Greater London were twice as likely to have secured future funding than those outside of London leading to concerns that the charity funding crisis may exacerbate regional divides.

Dr Claire Thornton, Senior Lecturer in Cell and Molecular Biology at the Royal Veterinary College said: “I’ve been fortunate enough to receive charity funding supporting many aspects of my work on neonatal brain injury. Early in my career, charity funding provided me with critical support which became the foundation stone of my brain research. Our research network continues to make vital progress in the quest for a treatment for neonatal brain injury, which would be impossible without such continued financial support.

“Clearly, this charity funding crisis will be hugely detrimental to many young scientists who entirely depend on charity grants to kick start their research journeys and ultimately their careers. I would urge the Government to support the AMRC in bridging the funding gap and maintaining the UK’s position at the forefront of high-impact medical research. In doing so they will assist the careers of many scientists who strive to find solutions to important health problems in Britain today.”

Our infographic provides an overview of the risk the medical research charity funding crisis poses to researchers.