It’s time to burst the biomedical bubble in UK research

Author Daniel Camero
Posted 2018.08.01 Comments 0

A new report by Nesta calls for research and innovation funding to be rebalanced so it can better meet the UK’s economic, social and health needs.

UK research and innovation needs a greater diversity of priorities, politics, places and people. This new report by Nesta sets out why and how the UK needs to escape the biomedical bubble if it is to realise the potential of new investment in research and development.

Biomedical science and innovation has benefited from significant increases in public investment over the past fifteen years. This builds on the remarkable strengths of the UK’s academic life sciences base and pharmaceutical industry. Yet there is mounting evidence that the pharmaceutical sector faces a deepening crisis of productivity, and it is cutting its own investment. Continuing to prioritise the biomedical – the “biomedical bubble” - risks unbalancing our innovation system and is unlikely to deliver the economic benefits or improvements to health outcomes that society expects. It favours the commercialisation of science, based on protectable intellectual property and venture capital based spinouts, despite evidence that this model rarely works.

Our health and social care system is under growing strain. As the NHS marks its 70th birthday, there is renewed debate about its long-term affordability. Too often, the biomedical bubble distracts attention and draws resources away from alternative ways of improving health outcomes. Around 81 per cent of spending is dominated by basic and translational biomedical research. Only 6.1% of all research is classified as health services research, covering organisational and system-wide studies of healthcare. Just 5% of health research funding is spent on researching ways of preventing poor health. More than half of all research budgets are spent in three cities – London, Oxford and Cambridge – despite variations in life expectancies of up to eight years across the country. Greater emphasis needs to be given to the social, environmental, digital and behavioural determinants of health, and decisions about research priorities need to involve a greater diversity of geographic perspectives.

There is an opportunity to design a system that delivers the research we need to meet the health needs of the nation, supports the new business opportunities of the future and maximises the potential for economic growth right across the country. Health services researchers are well placed to contribute to this impact.


Read the Nesta report “The Biomedical Bubble”