The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is among those calling for government action to support charity research in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
The charity anticipates the pandemic will cut its annual research budget by £50 million.
BHF has joined the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and 151 of its members, including Cancer Research UK and Parkinson’s UK, to call on the UK government to match charity funded research for the next three years.
The devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic means that its net income, and resulting investment in new research, is likely to drop by up to 50 per cent this year. Such a sharp fall could have a catastrophic impact on UK cardiovascular research, the research careers of thousands of young scientists and advances in diagnostics, treatments and cures for people with heart and circulatory diseases.
The BHF funds over half of non-commercial research into heart and circulatory diseases in the UK. But loss of income from shop closures and cancellation of fundraising events including the London to Brighton bike ride has created the biggest crisis in its 60-year history.
Dr Charmaine Griffiths, BHF chief executive, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating for so many people, especially those with heart and circulatory diseases.
“Thanks to 60 years of public support, the BHF has grown to become the UK’s leading funder of non-commercial cardiovascular research, that has saved and improved millions of lives. We now face an unprecedented research funding crisis that threatens to arrest real progress.
“The shockwaves from such a drop in funding for heart and circulatory disease research will be profound, stalling progress in making the discoveries we urgently need. We are urging government to establish a vital Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund to match research charity funding and help protect world class research across the UK’s four nations.”
The BHF currently supports £446 million of research at 47 institutions across the UK. This includes funding the posts of more than 1,700 researchers, hundreds of whom are in the early stages of their scientific career.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, BHF medical director, said: “Such a sharp drop in research investment will have severe consequences. Ultimately, patients and the public will suffer as the discovery and development of new ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating heart and circulatory diseases will slow. The lifeblood of making advances through research are the scientists we fund. We could potentially lose a generation of researchers because of the reduction in our funding, and this loss could take a long time to recover.”
Medical research charities accounted for £1.9 billion (51 per cent) of non-commercial research funding in the UK in 2019. However, the AMRC projects a £310 million shortfall in this spend over the next year and expects it to take nearly five years for funding to return to previous levels.
Professor Charalambos Antoniades, BHF senior fellow at the University of Oxford, used a BHF grant of £300,000 to develop artificial intelligence technology that uses hospital CT scan data to predict people’s risk of heart attack or stroke, so they can be given appropriate preventive treatment.
Professor Antoniades said: “All medical research exists to benefit patients. Unfortunately, it is patients who will pay the price if we’re not able to protect UK research from a cliff-edge fall in charity funding.”
Mark Owen, editor of Punchline-gloucester.com, said: “As someone who survived a heart attack five years ago, this is a story very close to my own heart (literally). Without the BHF and Gloucestershire NHS trust I wouldn’t be here today. I hope the government can see sense and back this fantastic charity and its very important work.”
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