New research suggests that last year, cancer research investment generated over £5bn in economic benefits to the UK, with CRUK supporting over 9,000 full-time jobs. Here, we explain why it’s important we know this, and what it could mean for the future of investment in cancer research…

We know that cancer research saves and improves lives. What is less well known is the role of cancer research in boosting economic growth. In 2020/21, there was £1.8bn of investment in cancer research from government, charity and industry sources. This investment generated more than £5bn of economic impact.

Our primary motivation for funding research will always be improving lives, but it’s also important to demonstrate the wider economic impact of cancer research. These wider impacts will strengthen the case we make to governments to prioritise investment in medical research and support the whole life sciences ecosystem.

While there is already evidence of the link between greater investment in science and economic growth, we wanted to better understand the specifics of the economic benefits of cancer research investment in the UK. This is why we recently commissioned an economic impact assessment of cancer R&D, including Cancer Research UK’s contribution. Our report, Understanding the economic value of cancer research, shows that cancer research generates significant returns, not only to the UK economy, but to society as a whole. This in turn will create more opportunities in the UK, attract global scientific talent and boost the economy in the long term.

Every £1 invested in cancer research, generates £2.80 in economic benefits

Cancer R&D contributes to the UK economy by supporting jobs within cancer research and creating demand across the wider life sciences and research supply chain. In addition, there are secondary economic impacts derived from innovations in cancer care that improve outcomes and enable patients to keep working for longer.

In 2020/21, there was £1.8bn of investment in cancer research across government, charity and industry sources. This investment generated more than £5bn of economic impact – this includes £3.6bn in gross value added (GVA) from 47,000 jobs, £1.4bn in monetised patient health benefits and £145m in additional earnings through improved patient survival. These numbers give a benefit cost ratio (BCR) of 2.8 – every £1 invested in cancer research generated £2.80 in economic benefits. To put this into perspective, HM Treasury considers any BCR greater than 1.0 value for money.

Cancer Research UK generated £973m in economic benefits in 2020/21 – including over 9,000 jobs

CRUK is the largest source of non-commercial funding for cancer research in the UK, and the largest independent funder of cancer research in Europe. We are responsible for half of public sector and charitable investment in cancer research and 19% of total cancer research investment in the UK. We have also been successful in producing spinout companies that can go on to contribute further to the economy. In 2020, ten of CRUK’s largest spinouts together spent £421m on cancer R&D in the UK, which generated 10,850 jobs and £824m of GVA for the private sector.

The impact of Cancer Research UK to the economy could not be clearer. And while its clearly secondary to our main motivations – improving survival and boosting the quality of life of patients – understanding the economic benefits is important when it comes to translation of research into actual patient benefit.

We are proud of the things our researchers have already achieved – but we want to go further and bring a greater variety of innovations to market, which is why we recently launched our new innovation engine, Cancer Research Horizons. We plan to bring more innovations to patients faster, but this is not going to be impossible without true collaboration and partnership with the biopharma, med-tech and investor communities and entrepreneurs which will lead to greater private sector investment.

The return on cancer research will rise as cancer cases will grow by around 40% by 2040

Our research shows that if the current level of growth is maintained, cancer research investment will see funding reach £3.13bn in 2040, which will support over 80,000 jobs and generate £13.2bn in total economic benefits. Over the next 20 years, it is estimated that cancer cases will grow by around 40%, as a result of people living longer and becoming increasingly at risk of developing cancer. Therefore, advancements in prevention, diagnosis and treatment today would positively impact a growing population of potential cancer patients. However, this will only happen if current public and private sector investment is maintained.

What we need from Government

Cancer research is an area of strength in the UK, making significant contributions to the economy. Continued cancer innovation can only happen if future funding is secured. The case for further funding is not just about saving lives, but also about supporting high-productive growth across the economy and securing the UK as a world leader in science and innovation.

The UK Government has a commitment for total UK investment in R&D to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027. To meet this commitment, Cancer Research UK urges the UK Government to consider the economic and health benefits of cancer R&D, and the vital contribution of medical research charities. Furthermore, delivering on the ambitions set out in the UK Government’s Life Sciences Vision and ensuring the importance of research is recognised in the forthcoming 10-year cancer plan for England present fresh opportunities to ensure that cancer research continues to flourish.

A thriving life sciences sector that can recruit and retain global talent, attract private sector investment and support innovation is paramount to maximising the impact of cancer research. All elements of the life sciences ecosystem – government, charity, and industry funders – have a key role to play in bringing innovations to patients and supporting the Government’s ambitions to be a science superpower.

Key findings:

  • In 2020/21, there was £1.8bn of investment in cancer research. This investment generated a total of £5.1bn of economic impact.
  • Every £1 invested in cancer research, generates £2.80 in economic benefits in 2020/21.
  • Cancer research supported 23,250 additional jobs in its supply chain, generating £1.2bn in additional indirect Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2020/21.
  • Cancer research organisations have a presence in all four countries of the UK and all nine regions of England. In the UK, full time salaries in cancer R&D are on average 25% higher than the average salary across all jobs in a given region.
  • CRUK generated £973m of economic benefits in 2020/21 – this includes 9,010 jobs.
  • In 2020, ten of the largest CRUK spinouts together spent £421m in real terms on cancer R&D in the UK, which generated a total impact of 10,850 jobs.
  • In terms of the future impact, if current growth is maintained, cancer research investment will see funding reach £3.13bn in 2040, which will support over 80,000 jobs and will generate £13.2bn in total economic benefits.

Latisha Gordon is a policy advisor in the policy department of Cancer Research UK

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