Government funding of medical research will rise by a record amount over the next three years as part of efforts to turn basic discoveries into new treatments.
The budget of the Medical Research Council (MRC), which on Monday won its 28th Nobel Prize, will increase 28.5 per cent, from £543.4 million in 2007-08 to £707 million in 2010-11.
The rise, the biggest in the council’s history, will be supplemented by £992 million allocated to the new National Institute for Health Research, about £150 million more than the NHS spends on clinical research at present.
Total spending on health research will therefore reach £1.7 billion by 2011. The bulk of the new money will be targeted at “translational” research projects, which aim to turn basic medical discoveries into drugs and treatments.
The extra support means that basic research funding should not have to be cut to accommodate the fresh emphasis on translation recommended by Sir David Cooksey last year in a root-and-branch review of support for medical science.
The funding will also boost the MRC’s hopes of opening the world’s biggest medical research campus in Central London. It is bidding for land valued at about £50 billion near St Pancras station, in partnership with University College London and two medical charities.
The MRC is the biggest winner from an overall increase in the science budget, with £3.4 billion in 2007-08 to almost £4 billion in 2010-11. The overall settlement was announced by Gordon Brown in March in his final Budget but the detailed breakdown was not revealed until yesterday.
Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the MRC’s chief executive, said: “This is a significant boost for health research in the UK . . . [It] will provide the seed corn from which we can produce improvements in human health more quickly and efficiently in the coming years.”
Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, said that the money would allow more British scientists to follow Sir Martin Evans, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine on Monday for his work on genetically modified laboratory mice and embryonic stem cells.
Independent medical research groups also welcomed the settlement. Professor Sir Michael Rutter, vice-president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “This substantial increase in funding will position the UK as a world leader in basic medical science and clinical research. It will support fundamental research into the major underlying questions of health and disease and, importantly, the translation of that research into benefits for patients.”