The economics stack up… it’s a perfect time to innovate in cancer research

Published date:
July 1 2022
Tony Hickson

A recently commissioned Cancer Research UK report ‘Understanding the Economic Value of Cancer Research*, concluded that for every £1 spent on Cancer Research UK-funded research in the UK in 2020/21, £2.80 of benefit was generated for the UK economy. Our Chief Business Officer, Tony Hickson, explores how Cancer Research Horizons contributes to this impact. 

All business sectors are important and add value to the UK economy, but new research puts the economic value of cancer research at over £5bn. Which is quite amazing.

Many reports have previously made the economic case for investment in science, and many have singled out bioscience as an important component of that. However, none to date have so clearly shown just how beneficial to a national economy investment in cancer research specifically can be. The Cancer Research UK commissioned report by PA Consulting found that, in 2020/21, there was £1.8 billion spent on cancer research. Through job creation, monetised patient health benefits and improved patient survival, this investment generated more than £5 billion worth of economic impact.

These numbers give, what economists call, a benefit cost ratio (BCR) of 2.8 – every £1 invested in cancer research generated £2.80 of economic benefit. To put this into perspective, HM Treasury considers any BCR greater than 1.0 value for money. All this is great news for those of us in the cancer research community trying to convince the government to consider cancer research as priority – but there are more reasons this is positive news for the business of research translation and innovation.

Laying the groundwork

A thriving life sciences sector that can recruit and retain global talent, attract private sector investment and support innovation is vital if we are to maximise the impact of cancer research for patients. It is precisely this – maximising the impact of cancer research – which Cancer Research Horizons has been set up to do. The space we occupy in the industry of research commercialisation, drug discovery and development is unique and, what’s more… it works.

The report identified that in 20/21, ten of the largest CRUK spinouts together spent £421 million on cancer R&D in the UK, which generated 10,850 jobs and £824m of gross value-added benefits for the economy. This suggests that CRUK‘s activities have contributed to the success of private sector activity, equivalent to a magnitude that is greater than CRUK’s own economic footprint. 

And our ability to drive forward drug discovery is a huge part of this. CRUK funded research has helped develop over 50 cancer drugs, with 3 in every 4 patients who receive cancer drugs on the NHS given those which are linked to CRUK’s research. Data suggests that CRUK has helped to support at least $47bn of global sales in the drug industry. And this goes beyond our own shores, with six million courses of treatments administered globally from the 11 drugs that Cancer Research Horizons has directly supported on their journey to market thus far. While we are very proud of this impact – it’s not enough. We must go further, and we must go faster.

Expanding Horizons

This is exactly what Cancer Research Horizons is for. We help bring forward new innovations in the early detection of cancer, medical devices for surgery and new AI algorithms for cancer diagnosis. We accelerate the discovery and development of new therapeutics with our novel approach to therapeutic innovation – uniting the strengths of our established drug discovery operations, our network of world-class biology, cutting-edge technology platforms and clinical expertise, to bring new treatments to patients faster.

But let’s not sugar-coat it, the translation of research into impact (i.e., the innovation process) is hard. Very hard. One thing, however, is crystal clear from this report – the economics stack up in favour of supporting this endeavour. And that is hugely important, because taking innovations from the lab through to patient impact is impossible without true collaboration and partnership with the biopharma community, the med-tech community, the investor community, researchers, and entrepreneurs. All of whom should take huge encouragement from this report… cancer research offers fertile grounds to allow innovations to thrive.

But there is something else which I think shows why it is important to examine the economics of the cancer research ecosystem in the UK. The government has repeatedly stated how it wants the UK to be a ‘science superpower’ and while its clear the biopharma and med-tech industries engaged in cancer research will be a huge part of this – now we have quantifiable evidence on just how vital they’ll be. Not only that, CRUK supports research across the country, including major research institutes in Manchester and Glasgow, with the report showing that these jobs are highly productive and command higher than average salaries for their regions. There is a lot of political talk about ‘levelling up’ – but right here we can see what a difference cancer research is making.    

There will always be challenges for the biopharma and med-tech industries, but what is very clear is what an incredibly good investment cancer research is. And that means our ambition of translating research into patient impact faster is one that we can meet… all of us.

CRUK funds 50% of all publicly funded cancer research in the UK, a highly unusual set-up compared to most other major western economies where most of such costs are funded by government. This report says much about the economics of cancer research but, ultimately, it should help empower the government to see through on its commitment to spend 2.4% of GDP on research & development by 2027 and for us all to come together to bring forward the day when all cancers are conquered.

Understanding the Economic Value of Cancer Research