Why research has a bright future in the UK
Last week we awarded the MRC Millennium Medal to Professor Janet Darbyshire, whose world-leading research on clinical trials and epidemiology has prevented disease and saved lives across the world. Here the Rt Hon Lord Henley, minister with responsibility for life sciences and Industrial Strategy, reflects on the ceremony and the importance of sustained support for scientists, scientific discovery and its translation into health and wealth benefits.
Tonight it was my pleasure to attend a ceremony in the House of Common’s Terrace Pavilion to present the Millennium Medal, the most prestigious accolade awarded by the Medical Research Council (MRC). The award is given for outstanding research that has made a major contribution to the MRC’s mission to improve health, quality of life and wealth creation in the UK.
Improving diversity in research, nurturing the next generation of researchers and making the UK a more attractive place to do research are priorities shared by the MRC and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and is key to the Industrial Strategy. This is why I was delighted to present the award to Professor Janet Darbyshire CBE FMedSci, a researcher whose career embodies these aims and the first female to receive the award.
Professor Darbyshire is one of the UK’s leading clinical trialists and epidemiologists. Her study of diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis led to improvements in prevention and treatment across the world and for patients here in the UK. She continues to contribute to the development and strengthening of clinical trial infrastructure in the UK and Africa and to support the next generation of researchers, for example with her role as a mentor for the Academy of Medical Sciences.
The Government recognises that inspirational careers like Janet’s require sustained support for scientific discovery and its translation. This is why we have committed to increasing investment in research and development (R&D) to 2.4per cent of GDP by 2027 and 3 per cent over the longer term – which could increase public and private investment by as much as £80 billion over the next 10 years. We want to ensure that R&D is properly funded in order to realise the potential health and wealth benefits to the nation.
I was pleased to meet many other ground-breaking MRC-funded researchers during the evening at various stages of their careers. To ensure the next generation is supported, the Government’s ambitious Industrial Strategy outlines £300 million to be spent on talent across the Research Councils and National Academies from 2018/19 onwards, in addition to the package of support announced in the Spring Budget last year, which included £90 million over the next four years for 1000 new PhD places, and £160 million to support new fellowships for early and mid-career researchers in areas aligned to the Industrial Strategy.
Furthermore, UK Research and Innovation, launching in April 2018 will, for the first time, provide a more strategic approach to achieving value for money from public investment. We intend to build a new system which is more than the sum of its parts.
Over its 105-year history, MRC-funded research has seen 32 Nobel prize winners and has been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and lung cancer. It has been translated into antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. The Government’s commitments that I have outlined above send a clear signal that research such as this has a bright future in the UK, and that careers such as Professor Darbyshire’s will continue to change lives and drive economic growth.