Every £1 invested in medical research returns 25p per year, forever: study

January 16, 2018 by Tim Pilgrim, Brunel University London, Brunel University
Credit: Creative Commons

What is the economic value of medical research? A new study from Brunel University London and King's College London suggests we now know the answer – for every £1 invested, society benefits by 25p per year, every year, forever.

The figure is the culmination of a decade-long series of 'What's it Worth?' studies – backed by a consortium of high-profile funders including the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the Academy of Medical Sciences – which set out to understand the economic return of public and charity-funded medical research.

The final paper in the series, published in the journal Health Research Policy and Systems, investigated the return on investment from musculoskeletal disease research, and supported the findings of similar studies into cancer and cardiovascular research.

Emeritus Professor Martin Buxton, former Director of Brunel's Health Economics Research Group (HERG) who led the research, said: "It has always been easy to identify specific examples of impact – the selective good news stories that show the value of a particular piece of research – but we know that inevitably other research in the same area may have been much less successful.

"The studies we have done address the important question as to whether there is an economic return on the totality of research spending in a broad area. And for the three areas of medical research that we have studied, that clearly is the case."

It's hoped that better understanding of the economic impact of research investment will help provide accountability, secure future funding, and demonstrate how research translates into real-world health improvements.

Dr. Ian Viney, Director of Evaluation at the Medical Research Council, said: "When tough decisions have to be made about where to invest public funds for the best economic return and benefit to the nation, it's vital to have robust research showing the positive returns from medical research – both through improved health and from wider private sector investment.

"UK medical research is skilfully coordinated across the country by public and charitable funding agencies, working closely with excellent research organisations. This study highlights how decisions to back excellent research can deliver significant benefits for society and how these benefits can be quantified."

How the figure was calculated

The headline stat, that every £1 invested sees a return of 25p per year, forever, was reached by combining two strands of figures – the net monetary value of improved public health and quality of life, and the extent to which public research stimulates private investment in the commercialisation of new products and research.

"First, we calculated the average investment in UK musculoskeletal research between 1978 and 1997, and then worked with experts in the field to identify research-based treatments, their use in the NHS, and the health gain linked to these treatments – measured in Quality Adjusted Life Years or QALY," said Prof Buxton.

"Valuing each QALY at £25,000 allowed the team to calculate the value of the health improvements resulting from the treatments. The team then subtracted the cost to the NHS of delivering these treatments, giving us the net gain."

The team then determined the proportion of relevant research that was attributed to the UK, and measured the time lag between the initial research investment and its impact on clinical practice – a figure that currently stands at 16 years for musculoskeletal research.

"Combining all these factors resulted in the estimate that every £1 invested in UK musculoskeletal research has delivered a rate of return equivalent to 7p every year, forever," said Prof Buxton.

The second strand determined the musculoskeletal research's wider benefit to society by quantifying how much private investment was stimulated by public and charity funding.

"Previous research estimates that every £1 invested in UK in the past has delivered a rate of return equivalent to 15p and 18p per year, forever, for the wider benefits to the economy," said Prof Buxton.

"Adding these two elements together gives an overall estimate that every £1 invested in UK musculoskeletal research delivers a return equivalent to between 22p and 25p every year, forever – a figure in line with our research into cancer and cardiovascular disease."

Explore further: Impact report shows healthy return on public medical research spending

More information: Matthew Glover et al, Estimating the returns to United Kingdom publicly funded musculoskeletal disease research in terms of net value of improved health outcomes, Health Research Policy and Systems (2018). DOI: 10.1186/s12961-017-0276-7

An explainer document into the research series "Medical Research: What's it worth?" can be downloaded from Wellcome
wellcome.ac.uk/sites/default/f … arch-januar-2018.pdf

Related Stories

Impact report shows healthy return on public medical research spending

March 27, 2017
Today the MRC has published its 2015/16 Economic Impact Report, detailing the positive impact on health, the wider society and the economy of investing in medical research.

Monetising time savings makes toll roads financially stack up

September 27, 2017
Putting a dollar value on the savings from traffic congestion, noise and air pollution as a result of toll roads and tunnels will make large infrastructure projects more cost effective, according to a new study by QUT.

More funding for heart disease research crucial for health of patients and the economy

June 26, 2017
Biomedical research on heart disease produces a significant return on investment for both health and the economy, but government and private funding is not keeping pace with need, according to a new scientific statement published ...

Every 1 pound spent on public health in UK saves average of 14 pound

March 29, 2017
Every £1.00 spent on public health returns an extra £14 on the original investment, on average—and in some cases, significantly more than that—concludes a systematic review of the available evidence, published online ...

Spending on public higher education overlooks net benefits as investment in state's future

March 10, 2016
In spite of the overwhelming evidence of a skills deficit, a depressed middle class and growing inequality, the state of Illinois continues to underinvest in public higher education. But considering higher education funding ...

New report: US investment in health research remains stagnant

September 8, 2011
The U.S. public and private sectors invested $140.5 billion in 2010 on research to find new ways to treat, cure and prevent disease and disability, according to Research!America's latest annual estimate, available at http://www.researchamerica.org/uploads/healthdollar10.pdf.

Recommended for you

How do babies laugh? Like chimps!

November 7, 2018
Few things can delight an adult more easily than the uninhibited, effervescent laughter of a baby. Yet baby laughter, a new study shows, differs from adult laughter in a key way: Babies laugh as they both exhale and inhale, ...

Tongue-in-cheek Nobels honor nutritional analysis of cannibalism, roller-coaster kidney stones treatment

September 14, 2018
A nutritional analysis of cannibalism and treating kidney stones on roller-coasters were research projects honored by tongue-in-cheek awards at Harvard University Thursday, designed to make you laugh first, and think later.

Pediatric robot patient offers new level of realism for doctors in training

September 10, 2018
A team of researchers and engineers at Gaumard Scientific has unveiled a new robot that raises the bar on medical training devices. The robot, called HAL, has been made to look like a five-year-old male patient and offers ...

Why men say they've had more lifetime sexual partners than women

July 25, 2018
The disparity between the number of sexual partners reported by men and women can largely be explained by a tendency among men to report extreme numbers of partners, and to estimate rather than count their lifetime total, ...

Censors jump into action as China's latest vaccine scandal ignites

July 22, 2018
Chinese censors on Sunday deleted articles and postings about the vaccine industry as an online outcry over the country's latest vaccine scandal intensified.

Revenge of a forgotten medical 'genius'

June 30, 2018
It's not an uncommon fate for a pioneering scientist: languishing unrecognised in his time before dying in obscurity. But as his 200th birthday approaches, the life-saving work of a Hungarian obstetrician is finally getting ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.