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Cancer Research UK Urges Parliamentary Support for Research Efforts

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK's largest cancer research funding organization is urging candidates for Parliament in this spring's general election to renew public funding for the Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF), support a controversial interdisciplinary research lab campus proposed for London, foster more support for clinical research and clinical trials within the National Health Service, and promote greater use of patient data in research.

In a Monday blog posting by its policy researcher Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK noted that state funding is set to run out next year for the support fund, created in 2004 to fund infrastructure in UK universities carrying out charity-funded research. CRUK typically uses donations to fund direct research costs, such as salaries, equipment, and materials — leaving to the CRSF indirect costs, estates costs, or investigator costs incurred by universities in conducting charity-funded research.

The UK government has committed to spending £270 million (about $406 million) for the CRSF in the 2010/11 fiscal year. Money from the support fund is distributed through the quality-related research block grant to colleges and universities by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

During 2008/09, Greenwood said, CRUK spent £355 million in donations on research. Between 2009/10 and 2013/14, according to its strategic plan for the period, CRUK plans to spend "around £300 million a year."

But even with the support fund, CRUK funding typically covers between 63 and 65 percent of the full economic cost of research activity, compared with 80 percent for the UK's eight publicly-funded research councils.

"As a consequence, when considering their future financial sustainability, universities are less keen to take on charity grants. We know that some of our researchers have been encouraged by their universities to apply for research council funding over charity funding," Greenwood stated.

She also said that CRUK wants candidates to support the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, whose partners include the cancer funding organization as well as the Medical Research Council, University College London, and the Wellcome Trust.

UKCMRI plans to develop a roughly £500 million building, in the shape of a pair of chromosomes, near the St. Pancras International rail station. UKCMRI would employ genomic technologies in the array of research its partners plan to pursue there — but it also has drawn opposition from many residents living near the proposed site and others.

CRUK's Greenwood also called for the next government to fund two of its other collaborative efforts — its partnership with MRC to jointly fund the Gray Institute for Radiation, Oncology and Biology in Oxford; and its initiative with the health departments of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to develop biomarkers and new cancer treatments through Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres.

In addition, Greenwood said, CRUK is calling for Parliamentary candidates to "foster a supportive environment for clinical trials and clinical research in the NHS – one in which healthcare professionals understand the importance of clinical research," and emphasize to their patients the value of involvement in research as a part of their treatment.

"This can only happen if a culture of research is embedded in the NHS," she said.

CRUK's recommendations comprise the "protect the UK's research base" plank of the funding organization's "Commit to Beat Cancer" campaign, designed to ensure more funding and healthier lives for people with cancer. "With concerted action from the next Government, we could make cancer outcomes in the UK among the best in Europe in the next ten years," the campaign declared on its web site.

The campaign's four other planks urge candidates for Parliament to support earlier cancer detection, provide world-class cancer treatments, support lifestyle changes aimed at preventing cancer, and reduce inequalities in cancer incidence and outcomes among various social groups — in part by targeting more spending for higher-risk groups such as senior citizens aged 75 and older.

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