Skip to main content

Investing in cancer research boosts economy as well as health

Each pound invested in cancer research generates a continuous stream of benefits equal to earning 40 pence a year thereafter, according to a report by three leading research institutions.

The report – commissioned by the Academy of Medical Sciences, Cancer Research UK, the Department of Health and the Wellcome Trust, and published in BMC Medicine today (Monday) – is the first ever estimate of the economic gains from investment in publicly-funded UK cancer research.

Some of the greatest economic benefit was from efforts to reduce smoking rates, investment in breast cancer treatments, such as tamoxifen, and the cervical screening programme.

The study, led by researchers from Brunel University, Kings College London and RAND Europe, looked at the economic returns from cancer research in the UK between 1970 and 2009.

It involved developing a cutting-edge ‘bottom up’ approach to estimating the ‘net monetary benefit’ from investing in medical research (the health benefit valued in monetary terms, minus the cost of delivering that benefit) and also the ‘time lag’, Which was calculated to range from 7 – 15 years, between investment (research funding) and return (health gain) associated with an expertly chosen subset of interventions.

This builds on an earlier study looking at investment in heart disease and mental health research, which reported similar results. Together these areas represent 45 per cent of the UK disease burden, suggesting that this level of return can be applied to UK investment in biomedical research as a whole.

Study leader Professor Jonathan Grant, from King’s College London, said: “This return of 40 pence a year for each pound invested in cancer research includes health benefits equivalent to around 10 pence plus a further 30 pence which is the best estimate of the ‘spillover’ effect from research to the wider economy. An internal rate of return of 40p easily meets the UK Government’s minimum threshold of 3.5 pence per pound for investments, showing that money spent on cancer research is good for the society as a whole, as well as benefitting patients.

“Estimating economic return from biomedical research is notoriously complicated, but we’re confident that our new approach provides the most accurate picture to date of the impact cancer research has on our national wealth.”

Jeremy Hunt, Health Minister, said: “Innovation is essential for improving treatments and finding new cures that can make a difference to patients, and this report is more evidence that investing in UK medical research has wider economic benefits.

“The UK life sciences sector is one of the strongest and most productive in the world, and is a valued partner in the Government’s plans for a strong economy and an NHS that is equipped for future challenges.”


Media Contact
Shane Canning
Media Officer
BioMed Central
T: +44 (0)20 3192 2243
M: +44 (0)78 2598 4543

Notes to editor:

Estimating the returns to the UK publicly funded cancer-related research in terms of the net value of improved health outcomes
Glover M. et al
BMC Medicine 2014, 12: 99
doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-12-99.

Article available at journal website

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

BMC Medicine is the flagship medical journal of the BMC series, publishing original research, commentaries and reviews that are either of significant interest to all areas of medicine and clinical practice, or provide key translational or clinical advances in a specific field. @BMCMedicine

BioMed Central ( is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.

RAND Europe is a not-for-profit, independent research organisation that helps to improve policy and decision making through research and analysis. It combines intellectual rigour with practical actionable solutions required by European policymakers who seek quality-assured, impartial research to inform debate on a range of issues. We aim to benefit the public interest through the impact and wide dissemination of our work.

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial

Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.

Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.
Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates in the UK double in the last forty years.
Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.
For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit Follow us on Twitter and Facebook