U.K. risking a cancer research black hole as government cuts science budgets, charity donations in freefall

A perfect storm of Brexit, government cuts to science investment and COVID-19 is risking capsizing cancer research in the U.K.

This is according to a new report out by the prestigious Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London that says billions of pounds will be lost in potential cancer research in the coming years, potentially pulling the rug out from under new oncology drugs and treatments.

The U.K., alongside Israel and, more recently, the U.S., has been leading the way in trials for new drugs against COVID-19 as well as its vaccination drive but is risking the new standing it has in the scientific community by cutting funding for research.

This week, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the main funding organization for science in the country, told universities its budget for official development assistance grants had been cut from £245 million to £125 million.

And with the U.K. now out of Europe, the funder may also have to find up to £2 billion a year from its current £8.5 billion budget for British scientists to join research under the EU’s international Horizon program.

The move puts 18,000 research jobs under pressure. Around 18% of the ICR’s income comes via UKRI, and—should the British government follow through with its plans to fund Horizon Europe out of the UKRI budget—that money could be cut by as much as a fifth, it says.

This combines with a severe loss of charity funding for cancer research in general in the country as lockdowns and COVID have hit people’s jobs and their wallets, meaning people cannot physically fundraise. Over a quarter of funding for the ICR, in fact, comes from medical research charities, and this funding has already been cut by 20%, with further cuts expected, it said, adding that the sector “faces a financial crisis.”

This is because canceled fundraising events and shop closures mean the sector as a whole faces an estimated £1 billion drop in income over the next three years.

RELATED: COVID-19 claims Cancer Research UK funding cuts, forecasting major shortfall

The ICR said it is now making a “personal appeal” to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to intervene to protect the science budget from cuts that would put at risk his vision of a COVID recovery fueled by research and innovation.

The ICR is urging the government to honor its commitment to reach an overall research spend of 2.4% of GDP by 2027 by increasing, rather than reducing, spend on science.

“I am deeply concerned that the Government’s plans will help create a perfect storm for research organisations like mine which risks capsizing cancer research,” said Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of ICR.

“We are already facing alarming cuts to the money available in grants from medical research charities which have been devastated by the pandemic. The combined impact of the pandemic and cuts to the research budget would be disastrous for UK science, with an impact lasting many years, if not decades.

“Cutting the UK research budget now would be catastrophic for science—delaying important discoveries, robbing patients of a better future and missing a golden opportunity to fuel our economic recovery from Covid-19. Such deep cuts would be incompatible with the Prime Minister’s own vision of the UK as a global science superpower.”