Press release

Investing in cancer research boosts economy as well as health

Each pound invested in cancer research generates a continuous stream of benefits equal to earning 40 pence a year thereafter, according to a report published today in BMC Medicine.

The report – commissioned by the Academy of Medical Sciences, Cancer Research UK, the Department of Health and the Wellcome Trust – is the one of the first ever estimates of the economic gains from investment in publicly funded UK cancer research.

Some of the greatest economic benefit was from efforts to reduce smoking rates, investment in breast cancer treatments, such as tamoxifen, and the cervical screening programme. The study, led by researchers from Brunel University, King's College London and RAND Europe, looked at the economic returns from cancer research in the UK between 1970 and 2009.

It involved developing a cutting-edge bottom up approach to estimating the ‘net monetary benefit’ from investing in medical research - the health benefit valued in monetary terms, minus the cost of delivering that benefit. They also worked out the time lags, between a piece of research being funded and the resulting health gains, associated with seven key developments in cancer treatment.

This builds on an earlier study looking at investment in heart disease and mental health research, which reported similar results. Together these areas represent 45 per cent of the UK disease burden, suggesting that this level of return can be applied to UK investment in biomedical research as a whole.

The study is being launched at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research’s Summer Reception, where Universities and Science Minister David Willetts and leading figures from the medical research community will highlight the health and economic returns that have been delivered by government and charitable investment into medical research.

Study leader Professor Jonathan Grant, from King’s College London, said: “This return of 40 pence a year for each pound invested in cancer research includes health benefits equivalent to around 10 pence, plus a further 30 pence, which is the best estimate of the ‘spillover’ effect from research to the wider economy. An internal rate of return of 40p easily meets the UK government’s minimum threshold of 3.5 pence per pound for investments, showing that money spent on cancer research is good for the society as a whole, as well as benefitting patients.

“Estimating economic return from biomedical research is notoriously complicated, but we’re confident that our new approach provides the most accurate picture to date of the impact cancer research has on our national wealth.”

Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, said: “Innovation is essential for improving treatments and finding new cures that can make a difference to patients, and this report is more evidence that investing in UK medical research has wider economic benefits.

“The UK life sciences sector is one of the strongest and most productive in the world, and is a valued partner in the government’s plans for a strong economy and an NHS that is equipped for future challenges.”

Professor Sir John Tooke PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “In difficult financial times, it is vital to show the monetary return of research alongside the health benefits for patients and their families. This study helps make the case for sustained investment in medical research. It demonstrates that past support for cancer research not only helps create a healthier society but aids the health of the economy now and into the future. Continued investment in the people who will make the advances in cancer care possible and the facilities and technologies that support them is vital if we are to continue to reap that double benefit.”

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “When we invest in medical research, we win twice over: we make discoveries that lead to better health, while also generating wealth. This study shows that every pound of investment in research generates benefits equal to 40p each year thereafter, confirming that the research ecosystem in the UK - which includes government, charities and industry - is one of the most important contributors to the economy. A long-term, stable commitment to research is needed to ensure advances in the nation’s future health, and its economic prosperity.”

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “This study highlights the significant returns that have been realised as a result of the huge generosity of the British public, who in the last 40 years have contributed an astounding £15 billion to cancer research through their taxes and charitable donations. This has helped pay for research which over the same time period has helped double cancer survival rates.

“Only the UK has the unique combination of internationally outstanding scientists, funded through charitable donations and working in partnership with world-leading universities and the NHS, that creates an ideal platform for making progress against cancer. As a result three life-saving national screening programmes for breast, cervical and bowel cancers now exist in the UK, so patients are being diagnosed earlier. And thanks to research that is leading to new ways to diagnose and treat cancer, more people than ever are surviving the disease with fewer long term side effects. What this report shows is that the benefits of research don’t just stop with cancer patients. They extend to everyone living here in the UK.”