Bypass fear for clinical funding

July 16, 2004

The launch of a cross-government group to monitor the delivery of clinical research may not be enough to stop money getting lost in general hospital budgets, scientists warned this week, writes Anna Fazackerley.

After the Chancellor's surprise announcement of a £200 million boost for clinical research by 2008 in his March budget, this week's science framework announced a new body to control the funding.

The joint Medical Research Council/Department of Health research delivery group will develop agreed positions on research issues, set delivery timetables and pool funds for patient trials where appropriate.

While clinical scientists are delighted with the money, some fear the National Health Service will be unable to respond to the challenge without additional help.

Richard Sullivan, director of clinical science at Cancer Research UK, said:

"There is still a sustainability gap of about £80 million in the NHS."

Ken Fleming, head of medical sciences at Oxford University, said: "When money goes into (NHS) trusts, is it spent on research or swallowed up in the system? That has been the fundamental problem for a long time."

But sources close to the DH revealed that Sally Davies, its director of research, was fighting for a more transparent system.

Clinical priorities could place a strain on other areas of health research.

One senior scientist, who asked not to be named, said the research delivery group would start work soon, but for the first two years there would be no new money from the research council until the spending review cash kicked in. "The fear is that there may be pressure on the MRC to switch money from the main research funds to clinical research," the source said.

Sir Keith Peters, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: "The entire community is looking very carefully at all this. But these are the most positive statements made by Government about medical research in living memory."

A new UK clinical research collaboration will fund networks to increase the number of patients in clinical trials in disease areas including Alzheimer's, stroke and diabetes. Plans for a centre for translational research in central London are under discussion.

WHERE THE CASH WILL COME FROM R&D as a percentage of GDP 2004 2005 Science base 0.35 0.5 Other Govt. R&D 0.31 0.3 Private sector 1.24* 1.7 UK total 1.90 2.5

Source: Science and innovation investment framework 2004-2014. *2002 estimate


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