Page last updated at 14:21 GMT, Wednesday, 27 May 2009 15:21 UK

Crunch 'to hit medical science'

Medical research
The recession must not get in the way of saving lives, charities warn

Life-saving research is threatened by the recession and government needs to step in to help medical charities weather the storm, campaigners say.

Small organisations are particularly at risk as they have far fewer resources to draw upon, the Association of Medical Research Charities warns.

A poll of its 117 members found 25% say they will cut their spending this year.

The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign says it has already turned down 50% of research grant applications.

The charity, which investigates the neuromuscular conditions which can kill sufferers in their teens, said it had recently rejected four out of eight research proposals on grounds of cost not quality.

Its chief executive Philip Butcher said they were now on "on the cusp of a breakthrough into curative treatment.

Disease does not contract during a recession, but the money we get to treat it does
Norman Barrett

"The hopes of families have never been higher. At the same time we also find the charity's income under massive pressure due to the economic situation. This year we have had to reduce our research budget by 15% to balance the books. Who knows what will happen next year?"

The head of the Association for International Cancer Research (AICR) added its fears that key public donations for its already underfunded research into cancers of the bowel and prostate would dry up as people watched their spending.

Norman Barrett said while people were still leaving money in their wills, the value of those had decreased significantly has property prices and investments depreciated.

"Disease does not contract during a recession, but the money we get to treat it does."

Cutting red tape

The Association of Medical Research Charities, which together spent nearly £1bn on research last year, is calling on the government to guarantee a fund which covers the overheads of carrying out research in universities in England.

It says the multi-million pound Charity Research Support Fund is a lifeline for research, but claims the government's commitment to providing the money is unclear.

Charities also say a cut in the VAT on many of their costs would give them a much needed cash injection which would go straight back into their research activities.

They also want to see the regulation surrounding clinical trials alleviated, making them easier and cheaper to get off the ground.

The AMRC's chief executive Simon Denegri said charities were currently trying to save as much money as possible by closer collaboration and co-funding.

"We urge the government to support these efforts by not only maintaining its investment in science but also continuing to focus attention on reducing the regulatory burden which has grown in recent years."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "The Department is committed to investment in health research and this will increase to £1.03 billion by 2010-11.

"We work in close partnership with medical research charities, for example through the UK Clinical Research Collaboration."

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