UK cancer research studies fell 32% in first year of Covid, say charities

The number of cancer research projects in the UK fell by almost a third in the year that Covid-19 hit, data has revealed, with a leading charity saying the decline is linked to the impact of the pandemic on charity shops and fundraising efforts.

Figures from the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) have revealed that spending on cancer research had been increasing in the five years before the pandemic.

But the trend subsequently reversed, with spending 9% lower in 2020/21 – at £634m – compared with the year before.

The NCRI – a UK-wide partnership of cancer research funders – said the number of projects funded dropped by 32% between 2019 and 2020, while the amount awarded to the projects for their whole duration plunged by 57%, from £3.03bn for projects funded in 2019 to £1.29bn for projects funded in 2020.

The NCRI said several of its partners have had to make redundancies and take difficult decisions about priorities in order to maintain their research funding commitments. And it is not clear if funding will bounce back.

“We are concerned that – due to the substantial decrease in the number and lifetime value of the new cancer research funded – the spend on cancer research could continue to decline over the next few years,” said the body’s chief executive officer, Dr Iain Frame.

“This is because as existing projects that have been funded come to an end, there may not be new projects to replace them.”

Cancer prevention was one of the main areas affected by the drop in funding, while bladder cancer and cancer of the small intestine were among the types of the disease worst hit.

According to Cancer Research UK, there are more than 10,000 new cases of bladder cancer in the UK each year, and 5,500 deaths, with 49% of cases preventable.

Charities have previously raised concerns about the financial impact of the pandemic on their ability to help fight cancer, warning it could last for years.

Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said the data from NCRI reflects the impact that the charity had felt from the first year of the pandemic.

“Successive lockdowns forced the closure of our shops, fundraising events were cancelled and volunteering activities stopped, all of which limited our ability to raise money,” he said.