Lower number of cancer research projects funded during the pandemic

Lower number of cancer research projects funded during the pandemic
© iStock/Tashi-Delek

The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) found that fewer new cancer research projects were funded during the Covid pandemic.

Cancer research projects are vital for uncovering new treatment options and cancer prevention techniques. The NCRI are pioneers in cancer research; they work to identify gaps in research areas and address them through comprehensive studies, uniting scientific and medical professionals intending to advance cancer research in the UK.

Despite the revolutionary work the NCRI do, they have reported a drop in funding for cancer research projects caused by the Covid pandemic, which they have highlighted as a concern if the trend continues over the next five years.

Cancer research projects significantly reduced

The NCRI has observed a substantial decrease in the number of cancer research projects funded between 2019 and 2020, approximately a 32% decrease. They also have outlined that the lifetime value of new cancer research projects has decreased by 57%, which is a cause of concern that the amount of funding spent on cancer research will continue to decline over the next five years if the trend continues. The effect of this decline will significantly impact the ability to improve patient outcomes for people affected by cancer.

Furthermore, data collected by NCRI showed that in the financial year 2020/21, NCRI Partners spent a total of £634m on cancer research projects. This is a decrease of 9% compared to 2019/20. The five years before the Covid pandemic showed an upward trend in cancer research spending.

The implication of the Covid pandemic has also affected cancer research funders, specifically charity funders. Charity funders have done everything possible to ensure that funding committed before the pandemic has been honoured; however, this also meant that less funding was allocated to new research.

Speaking on the decrease in cancer research funding, Dr Iain Frame, CEO, NCRI, said: “While a 9% decrease in the amount spent on cancer research is alarming, we are concerned that it doesn’t reflect the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is because several NCRI Partners made tough decisions during the Covid-19 pandemic to maintain their research funding commitments, including moving priorities away from other areas and making redundancies.

There has been a substantial decrease in the number and lifetime value of new cancer research projects funded. As current projects come to an end, we could see a continued decrease in spending on cancer research over the coming years.”

Substantial decreases were reported in certain research areas

The NCRI also noted that some research areas saw the most substantial decreases in funding by partners. In particular, gaps in cancer research projects were found in cancer prevention and cancer control, survivorship and outcomes, along with large funding decrease into bladder cancer, neuroblastoma and cancer of the small intestine.

Breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, leukaemia, prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer remain the cancer types that receive the most funding.

Reflecting on the past two years, Dr Chris MacDonald, Head of Research at NCRI Partner Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “As the pandemic struck, we were forced to contemplate the unthinkable – not being able to fund any research into the deadliest common cancer for many years.

“Instead, the financial challenges have only stiffened our resolve and made us think more clearly than ever about where we must continue to invest. We’re able to keep investing strategically in innovative projects and bring forward our support for the most promising early-career scientists. In such uncertain financial times, those vital professors of the future may have otherwise had to abandon their careers before they could help us make the lifesaving breakthroughs we desperately need.

“We owe a huge debt of thanks to everyone who rallied to us during Covid-19. It’s because of them that this year we’re able to invest more money in pancreatic cancer research than ever before.”


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