Largest study of UK health research funding released today

UK health research funding has increased since 2004, reaching £5 billion in 2022 with growth in translational and infection research, but is now plateauing.

A report published today, the UK Health Research Analysis 2022, provides the most detailed overview yet of UK health research funding from 2004 to 2022 from all public sectors, including:

  • the governments of the four nations of the UK
  • charities
  • societies
  • professional bodies

This report is part of a series published every four to five years.

The report was commissioned by the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC), a partnership of the main stakeholders that influence clinical research across the business, public and charitable sectors in the UK.

Tracking annual funding

The report found that annual funding had increased overall during this 18 year period, reaching £5 billion in 2022.

Most of this growth was in the first five years covered by the study (2004 to 2009) increasing by only 1.5% annually between 2009 and 2018.

Impact of COVID-19

However, since 2018 this growth has slowed to just 0.2% annually, resulting in a real terms decrease in funding of £110 million between 2018 and 2022.

The report attributes this decrease to both high inflation pressures and a shrinking of the charity sector’s contribution to health research due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on charitable income.

This reduction is offset in part by increased public expenditure driven by the COVID-19 response.

Noteworthy trends

The report also found that funding for research projects over the study period was relatively stable for most areas of health but with some noteworthy trends:

  • translational research, in detection and diagnosis, treatment development, and treatment evaluation, received an increasing proportion of total health research spend (up 13.0%, from 22% to 35%) between 2004 and 2022. This resulted in a real term increase of £676 million over 18 years
  • prevention research has also received an increased proportion of total health research expenditure (up 4.6%, from 2.5% in 2004 to 7.1% in 2022), meaning a real term increase of £163 million since 2004
  • research on discovery science remains strong, accounting for almost half of all funding, but growth in spending has been prioritised to other research activities
  • the largest growth has been in infections research (up 6.4%, from 9.0% in 2004 to 15.4% in 2022) as funders sought to address the challenges of antimicrobial resistance, COVID-19 and post-pandemic recovery
  • almost a fifth of health funding was spent on cancer research, but this has declined in proportion to overall funding (from 20.3% in 2004 to 16.8% in 2022, down by 2.1% since 2018)

Overview of all public health funding

To produce the report, the authors took an overview of all public funding for health relevant research.

Whether by the government, memberships of societies and professional bodies, or by donation via medical research charities.

The authors then used the Health Research Classification System to identify the main area of health for each research award.

23,500 projects, 173 funding organisations

This system was applied to over 23,500 projects supported by 173 funding organisations, corresponding to just over £5 billion of spend within the UK in 2022.

The analysis showed that of the £5 billion spend:

  • £2.8 billion was invested directly on research projects
  • £1.4 billion was spent on infrastructure and other indirect support
  • £865 million of health-relevant support funding was added from other sources not directly captured in the analysis, such as estimates of university core funding used for biomedical research

The authors then compared the results from 2022 with previous analyses in this report series, in 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2018, to assess how the health research landscape has changed over time.

The UK Health Research Analysis 2022 dataset has been made publicly available so that other funders can perform their own analyses and better support health and biomedical funding in the future.

World-leading research and innovation

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chair of UKCRC, and Chief Scientific Adviser, Department of Health and Social Care, said:

The UK health funding ecosystem successfully brings together government spending with the charity and private sector to drive world-leading discovery research and innovation that is having impact for patients and the public, the NHS, and for the UK life sciences industry.

This report shows how the £5 billion annual investment made by public and charitable funders is being spent, including substantial growth in patient-focussed research.

We have seen this ecosystem discover and deliver new technologies for early detection and diagnosis alongside new treatments and vaccines for prevention.

This was only possible through sustained investment over many decades in discovery science and our translational infrastructure.

The health funders across the public, charity and private sectors will continue to work together closely to address the current and future health challenges.

UK health research is world-class; we should continue to see increasing research and development funding in order to drive health and economic impact.

Joined-up landscape

Professor Patrick Chinnery, Executive Chair, Medical Research Council (MRC), said:

The MRC is proud to have produced this report on behalf of the UKCRC in collaboration with other funders.

The combined analysis shows the UK’s major commitment to health research through a joined-up landscape from basic discovery to clinical translation.

Top image:  Credit: mkurtbas, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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