I see that Cancer Research UK last week put out a press statement about the need for the UK to have strategic vision for medical research. You can find further details on their blog and they also issued a document entitled ‘Building the Right Environment for Medical Research.’
Thoughtfully the announcement and document have been sensibly timed so that you and I can carry it under our arms during the party conference season now upon us. All with the aim of stimulating debate in the run up to the Government consulting on and producing a research and innovation strategy. And how overdue is that particular gem I ask you?
‘Building the Right Environment’ is a curious document. It might seem strange but the main thought I had after reading it is that it would be hard to disagree with any of it. Is that because it it’s smack on the mark in terms of its prescription, or not challenging enough? Discuss.
When I jotted down my initial reactions this is what I came up with, warts and all:
- The conclusions are based on interviews with thirty or so Cancer Research UK scientists so, naturally, it reflects the priorities of that community. Nothing wrong in that and many of them are common to us all across science. But if you’re fighting for a rarer cause then your concerns are probably a bit more ‘fund’-amental.
- Other partners involved in research such as patients might have an alternative but helpful perspective.
- The recommendations are all good but quite specific and tactical. Each has a strategic role to play but it would be good to have seen something in it to say how it might all hang together in terms of a coherent vision for UK medical research.
- It misses some of the big stuff. To take clinical research for instance it rightly talks about the new Health Research Authority but there are other tussles that need addressing to get us further – how to integrate all the parts of NIHR into one system for instance, or how to engage the public in such a way as to drive up participation in and recruitment to trials. This is the additional stuff that is going to weigh us down.
- I would like to have seen it pose some strategic questions for debate rather than simply proposing answers to a much-spoken about but ill-defined problem. What are the main challenges to how we do things now and is our model sustainable in the long-term? Again, things like clinical trials networks are well-embedded in the world of cancer but have some way to go in other fields. How do we get there…quickly?
- It doesn’t really look at the relative role played by different research funders and how this might be thought through – together – so we are more strategic as a community. Should charities be clustering around disease areas for instance in the way that we have therapeutic clusters developing between academics and industry (that’s off the top of my head)?
I just throw this out there. As I am sure they would readily admit, Cancer Research UK does not have all the answers to our woes and that’s an open invitation to the rest of us. So, if this document gets us to think a little deeper and debate more then that has to be a good thing.
In that spirit I welcome it just as others have. But I can’t quite get rid of a nagging feeling that it would have been great if it had gone just that little bit further.