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UK health research funding reached £5 billion in 2022 but is now plateauing, according to the UK Health Research Analysis 2022, but why?

The report, commissioned by the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC), provides the most detailed overview yet of UK health research funding from 2004 to 2022 from all public sectors.

During this 18-year period, annual funding had increased overall reaching £5 billion in 2022; however, since 2018, this growth has slowed to just 0.2% annually, resulting in a real terms decrease of £110 million. The decrease has been attributed to high inflation and a reduction in the charity sector’s contribution to health research due to the impact of COVID-19.

23,500 projects supported by 173 funding organisations

The Health Research Classification 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 spent: £2.8 billion was invested directly on research projects; £1.4 billion was spent on infrastructure and other indirect support; and £865 million of health-relevant support funding was added from other sources not directly captured in the analysis.

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

  • Translational research, in detection and diagnosis, treatment development, and treatment evaluation, spends were up 13.0% from 22% to 35% between 2004 and 2022, resulting in a real-term increase of £676 million
  • Prevention research expenditure was up 4.6% from 2.5% in 2004 to 7.1% in 2022, conveying 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)

£5 billion annual investment

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

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

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