Impact of Covid-19 on charity funding puts medical research in jeopardy, survey warns

A “catastrophic funding crisis” in medical research caused by the pandemic has left 40 per cent of charity-funded early career scientists considering leaving the profession, according to a new survey.

Funded by 72 charities, the study of 523 scientists by the Association of Medical Research Charities also shows that 28 per cent have considered leaving due to a lack of career prospects, and 19 per cent have considered leaving research due to Brexit.

Medical research charities fund the salaries of about 17,000 scientists in the UK, with two-thirds of those surveyed relying entirely on charity funding for their salary.

Half say their funding will expire by the end of 2021 and, of these, two-thirds have been unable to secure funding to take them to the next stage in their career.

The pandemic has had a devastating financial impact on medical research charities, which face cuts to their research investment of 41 per cent over the next year alone - a predicted £310m shortfall.

AMRC members include the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK, which revealed in July that it would have to reduce its spending on research by £150m over the next four to five years.

The membership body is urging the government to protect the UK’s position as a global leader in science and avoid a science brain drain by introducing a Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund.

Under the proposal the government would support charities’ investment in research for the next three years.

Aisling Burnand, chief executive of AMRC, said: “Medical research charities are facing a catastrophic funding crisis and are having to decide where future research will need to be cut. 

“Although the government has introduced a £750m support package for charities, no funding for charitable medical research has been given.”

Burnand said there is a risk that the crisis will result in the loss of a generation of young scientists, which would have a severe impact on several decades’-worth of research.

The survey also found a staggering divide across the country, with scientists within Greater London twice as likely to have secured future funding than those outside the capital –  leading to concerns that the charity funding crisis may exacerbate regional divides.

Dr Claire Thornton, senior lecturer in cell and molecular biology at the Royal Veterinary College said: “I’ve been fortunate enough to receive charity funding supporting many aspects of my work on neonatal brain injury. 

“Early in my career, charity funding provided me with critical support, which became the foundation stone of my brain research.” 

Thornton said it was clear the funding crisis would be detrimental to many young scientists who entirely depend on charity grants to kick start their careers.

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