Medical Research Funding

We thought some of you might like to know how medical research in the UK is funded.

Medical research is very expensive. Billions of pounds are spent every year across the world on basic and applied research projects. Basic research, sometimes referred to as 'blue skies' research, is driven largely by curiosity and furthers our understanding of what happens in health as well as in disease. This type of research is vital because it delivers new insights that underpin applied or problem-solving research. Most applied research is conducted in industry but universities and other academic institutions are increasingly involved in applied research.

Medical research can be basic or applied. It can be laboratory based but often isn't. Clinical research frequently involves people; taking part in surveys, filling in questionnaires and participating in trials of new medicines or procedures are all examples of clinical research. Most treatment research begins on the bench and ends up in the clinic. Sometimes, an idea from a new treatment comes not from basic research but from insights gained from excellent clinical observations - oral isotretinoin's efficacy in acne was discovered that way.

So... who provides funding for this work? In the UK, the two biggest funders of independent medical research are charities and public funding bodies such as the Research Councils. Many companies also invest heavily in medical research, much of it conducted in house but by no means all. Figure I shows the main funders of medical research in the UK. The chart below (Figure 2) shows how much some selected organisations spent on medical research in 2011/12.

Figure 1. Who funds medical research in the UK?

The British Skin Foundation (BSF) is the only UK charity dedicated to funding research in skin disorders and has a tiny budget compared to the other organisations shown.

Figure 2. Who spends the most money on medical research?

ACNE TOP TEN RESEARCH QUESTIONS - The output of the Acne PSP will be a short list of questions which everyone who has taken part agrees are the most important ones for new research to address. Researchers will then be able to design dedicated studies to answer them. If the researcher works in a company, then senior managers within that company will decide whether or not to allocate funds to any particular research project. They might also decide to support specific pieces of research in universities or hospitals. For research projects conducted within public sector organisations like universities and hospitals, the research team will have to apply for a grant from one of the agencies that fund medical research. In theory, the National Institute for Health Research, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council as well as the British Skin Foundation will fund research on acne but in recent years, acne has attracted very little funding from any of these organisations.

If we want that to change, we need to ensure that acne is seen as an important condition that requires more research and make sure researchers of repute engage with the ACNE TOP TEN and put together convincing cases for support. You can help them make a stronger case by taking part in our treatment survey. There are also lots of ways you can help scientists design and deliver research projects - Why not take a look at the rest of our research pages?

A charity dedicated to skin disorders - the British Skin Foundation (BSF)

The BSF is the only charity to address the problems associated with all skin disorders. It leads the fight to find better treatments and eventually cures for a wide range of skin conditions which together affect over eight million people in the UK. The income of the BSF (£800,000 in 2011/2) comes entirely from its own fundraising activities and from public donations. All of the money raised is spent on research.

The BSF exists primarily to support research and to date has provided 290 grants totalling eight million pounds to researchers in our universities and hospitals. Acne projects have to compete with projects on other skin problems to secure funding so the quality, relevance and value for money of the proposals is very important. To the end of 2011, eight acne projects have received support totalling £234,512 from the BSF. We’d like to see many more acne projects compete successfully for funding in the future; the output from the PSP will help researchers who apply for funds make stronger cases for support.

Figure 3. Grant expenditure by the BSF (not all disorders are shown).

There are many ways in which members of the public can help the BSF raise funds for research. Money raised usually goes into the general fund but, should they wish to do so, individuals can specify that their donation goes to a particular disorder. This year people from across the country will be taking part in events ranging from 100 metre swims to 100 mile cycle rides and from hikes across the Pennines to treks up Africa's highest peak, Kilimanjaro. If you are less energetic, there are still lots of ways you can help including 'give as you live' ( and holding your own event. The BSF also recognises the important role that people with skin disorders have in helping to ensure that research funding is targeted to those proposals that are most likely to deliver maximum benefits for patients in the short or longer term.

If you would like more information regarding BSF research funding or fundraising events or if you are interested in raising awareness of acne by becoming a case study, please contact the BSF through their website ( where you can find lots more information about how you can get involved. Alternatively, give them a call on 020 7391 6341 or email them at They will be happy to answer your questions.

If you simply wish to make a donation and would like the money to be directed specifically towards acne research please go to the BSF donation page and state that the gift is intended for future acne research funding.

Assessing science on the internet

An organisation called Sense about Science has produced a guide to help people to query the status of science and research reported in the media. Get the guide by clicking the e-button below: