Making a difference: Impact Report 2021

Medical research charities are an integral part of the UK’s health research system. They respond to the priorities of people living in the UK and ensure that research into diseases and medical conditions is relevant, necessary and impactful. They fund research at all stages of the pathway from the lab to the clinic and support the people and infrastructure behind the research. In this way, they enable breakthroughs that would not otherwise have been possible.

Tracking and demonstrating impact is not easy or straightforward. Transformative breakthroughs involve many different players working collaboratively and in sequence, often in non-linear paths and involving dead-ends or unexpected turns. And most of all, impact takes time. For charities to map their contribution to these breakthroughs, they must routinely collect research outputs and outcomes – steps along the way to impact - from their researchers.

Some AMRC members use an online tool called Researchfish that allows them to collect the outputs and outcomes of their research funding from researchers over time. Collecting data in this consistent way allows us to pool data together from many different charities and perform a cross-sector analysis of the outcomes of the research funded by our members. In addition, because other major funders in the UK use the platform, it allows us to look at AMRC data in a wider context of public funding.

We are proud to share this new report that shows what research funded by AMRC members can achieve, highlights examples of excellence, and puts charities’ role into the context of the wider research system. It follows on from our 2017 and 2019 impact reports, incorporating three more years of Researchfish data and new stories of how charity-funded research has impacted patients and society. The report is structured around three important ways in which charities add immense value:

  • Meeting the needs of patients
  • Boosting researchers’ careers
  • Supporting the research system

You can download a PDF version of this report and there is also an accompanying infographic.

If you have any questions, please contact us at [email protected]

We would like to thank the Medical Research Council, Interfolio UK, and all participating organisations for making this report possible.

This report was published on 15 November 2021.

Health research is a collaborative endeavour, involving many different funders, institutions, researchers, clinicians, and patients. AMRC members bring a laser focus and sense of urgency to medical research, representing the priorities of people living with health conditions. They fill in gaps where there is unmet need or insufficient investment, for example with rare diseases or at break points in the translational pathway. They pump prime the system by funding crucial proof-of-concept or pilot studies that de-risk an area, enabling larger funders to step in to carry forward the research.

Charities help to ensure research stays relevant to the end user and help convene and attract the necessary partners to move initial discoveries down the path to patient benefit.

Here are some of the ways that medical research charities make vital contributions to the research system.

  • Building new knowledge
    The production and sharing of new knowledge, in the form of publications, tools, and databases, ensures that research findings can be built upon and progressed.
  • Sparking new collaborations and partnerships
    Charities and the research teams they fund go on to develop collaborations and partnerships that take research in new and innovative directions.
  • Attracting further investment
    Promising results and new discoveries made possible by charities go on to attract further funding and sometimes even result in the formation of spin out companies.

The primary way that new knowledge and research findings are shared with others is through publications, allowing discoveries to be built upon and progressed in new directions.

Publications are the most common and rapid output of research, which allow findings to be shared with the research community, clinicians, policy makers and the public.

Research funded by AMRC member charities and tracked in Researchfish has so far led to 73,542 unique publications. These are linked to 78% of grants.*

The majority of these were journal articles (60%) but also included books, book chapters, preprints, theses and abstracts.

Other includes: thesis, book edited, working paper, policy briefing report, technical report, systematic review, monograph, consultancy report, manual/guide and other.

For publications where the open access status was recorded (64,356 publications), 85% are open access. For all funders, and particularly charities who are supported by and exist for the public, making the results of research freely available to everyone helps accelerate progress and maximise impact.

Research funded by charities can also create new tools, methods, databases and models that are shared with others and help move the field forward.

For science to progress, new tools, methods, databases and models need to be developed and shared with the research community. These outputs allow other researchers to further develop or use these resources in their own research, moving the field forward.

Research funded by AMRC member charities and tracked in Researchfish has so far led to 3,886 unique research tool and methods linked to 22% of grants, and 2,104 unique databases and models linked to 12% of grants.*

There are a variety of different research tools and methods reported by charity-funded researchers, including technology assays, reagents, animal models, biological samples and cell lines.

Other includes: other models, antibodies, biological samples, outcome measures, and data analysis techniques, and others.

The majority of databases and models are categorised as databases or collections of data, but also include computer models/algorithms and data analysis techniques. Over half (61%) of databases and models were made available to others, enabling reuse and application to other areas.

Charity-funded research leads to new collaborations and partnerships that carry the research forward in innovative new directions.

Research is a collaborative endeavour and the ability of researchers to forge partnerships with other researchers, companies and patient organisations allows research ideas to develop and be translated into new or improved treatments, products or areas of understanding that will ultimately help patients.

Research funded by AMRC member charities and tracked in Researchfish has so far led to 13,920 unique collaborations and partnerships. These are linked to 49% of grants.*

Most grants (40%) led to a single reported partnership and 21% led to two reported partnerships.

Charity-funded researchers have collaborations and partnerships with groups in 108 countries across the world, however most (55%) of the partnerships were with UK-based organisations. There were also substantial numbers of partnerships across Europe (21%) and with the United States (12%). The top 3- partnering countries in Europe were Germany, The Netherlands and France.

The majority of partnerships are formed with universities/academia (63%), followed by private companies, hospitals, charities/non-profit, and public organisations.

Other includes: unknown and all other countries. Global refers to partnerships with more than one country for the same grant.

Types of partners:

Other: Unknown, Learned society, multiple


Investment by medical research charities sparks further funding from other organisations, enabling them to leverage their initial investment for patient benefit.

The UK charity funding landscape is diverse with many small funders; approximately two-thirds of AMRC members spend less than £1m on research in the UK per year.

Both small and large charities play an important role to leverage more funding into the UK life sciences sector. Often charities will provide funding for early-stage research that could be considered high-risk. When promising results come out of these pilot projects and feasibility trials, other funders can then step in with significant investment to scale up or carry the research forward to the next stage.

Research funded by AMRC member charities and tracked in Researchfish has so far led to 12,908 unique examples of further funding, amounting to £7.38 billion. These are linked to 42% of grants.*

Where there was further funding linked to a grant, 38% of grants generated one instance of further funding, 33% generated two or three instances, and 29% generated more than three instances.

Half (51%) of the total value of further funding is from public funding (for example from the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, or the European Commission), accounting for £3.8 billion in further funding. Charities and non-profits account for 31% of the total value, representing £2.3 billion in further funding. A total of £632 million (9%) was reported from the private sector.

Almost three-quarters of further funding came from organisations based in the UK (73%) and the rest from Europe and overseas.

Other includes: Unknown, Hospitals, Multiple, Learned society

Other includes: unknown and all other countries. Global refers to further funding coming from more than one country for the same grant.

For a more detailed breakdown of sources of further funding by country and sector, click here.

The translation of charity-funded research can result in the creation of spin out companies to commercialise new products or processes.

Spin out companies contribute to the growth of the UK’s economy and generate further jobs in our thriving life sciences sector.

Research funded by AMRC member charities and tracked in Researchfish has so far led to 81 unique spin out companies attributed to 24 charities’ funding. Spin out companies are linked to 2% of grants.*

The majority of these are drug discovery or development companies and many focus on conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative conditions.


* These stats are based on a dataset of researcher-reported outcomes on 10,579 grants funded by 49 charities over the past two decades. Charities included in this dataset have not tracked all grants in Researchfish and have used the system for varying periods of time. This should be viewed as a subset of research outcomes from AMRC member charities