How the Government’s Spending Review will influence Research and Development

By Julia West, Operational Director Research Development & Innovation, Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

The recent news about vaccines and treatments have underlined the crucial role of research and development (R&D) as the United Kingdom emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Never has the public profile of research been so high and it was against this backdrop that Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his 2020 Spending Review last week.

The government announced £14.6 billion for UK R&D in 2021-22. This followed on from March’s Spring Budget, in which they announced plans to increase public R&D investment to £22 billion per year by 2024/25.

UKRD, a community of R&D leaders, is working to be a powerful influencer of change and had a seat at the table in discussions before the Spending Review was announced.

The role of R&D in post-pandemic Britain will be crucial, not just in the efforts to deal with COVID-19, but to ensure research in other areas continues to positively impact the health and wellbeing of the public and UKRD are working to ensure that is the case.

LHP will continue to monitor developments and opportunities for engagement.

R&D highlights of the Spending Review published on 25th November:

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) R&D budget of £1.3 billion to continue the world-leading work of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Genomics England (GEL) and their research into better patient outcome. This includes research into Covid-19, as well as supporting the wider UK life sciences sector. The Spending Review 2020 also provides £559 million to support the modernisation of technology across the health and care system, including the NHS’s Artificial Intelligence Lab.

Funding for clinical research to support delivery of new drugs, treatments and vaccines.

A pledge of £4.2 billion for NHS operational investment next year to allow hospitals to refurbish and maintain their infrastructure, and £325 million of new investment in NHS diagnostics equipment to improve clinical outcomes.

The government has now made available more than £6 billion in total to develop and procure Covid-19 vaccines. Of that, the Spending Review confirms £733 million in 2021-22 for the UK Vaccines Taskforce to purchase successful vaccines and £128 million for R&D and vaccines manufacturing. Further funding will be allocated from the Covid-19 reserve as needed.

Other specific investments of up to £17 million was pledged to establish a new unit and fund that will focus on the last mile of innovation to help ensure that public sector knowledge assets (R&D, intellectual property and other intangible assets) translate into new high-tech jobs, businesses and economic growth.

Reaction to the announcement

Daniel Rathbone, assistant director of CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering) welcomed the funding for R&D, saying: “Given the current economic circumstances, I am really pleased to see the increased investment in R&D in 2021-22 announced by the Chancellor, keeping us on track to reach the government’s goal of £22 billion invested in R&D by 2024-25.”

Cancer Research UK said: “The Government committed to investing £14.6 billion in research next year, alongside some commitments to increase multi-year funding for some research.

“This is a significant move toward protecting the UK’s place as a global leader in research. But, whilst some funding has been specifically marked for supporting the whole research and development ecosystem, there was no clear commitment to a Life Sciences – Charity Partnership Fund nor to any targeted support for medical research charities.

“We now need urgent clarity to understand whether the uplifts to research funding announced will support our vital medical research charities to recover from the impact of COVID-19.”