Good Value for Money

(June 24th, 2014) Some governmental spending seems more like a massive waste of money than a good investment into a country’s future. A recent study suggests that every pound given to cancer research is money well spent.



Reading about the latest raise of remunerations for parliamentarians or the ever increasing building costs for airports that will never open, the ordinary tax payer might occasionally wonder: wouldn’t my hard-earned money be better spent on something else? Like medical research, for instance? A recent study found evidence that investment into cancer research pays back double.

The UK government currently spends £1.6 billion (€2 billion) on medical research, and the British public donates another £1.7 billion to medical research charities. The authors of the recent study calculated that cancer research, in particular, received £15 billion from 1970 to 2009. But that money isn’t just poured down the drain, the study found: “Every pound invested in public or charitable cancer-related research produces a stream of benefits equivalent to an average earning of 40 pence each year in perpetuity.”

To arrive at this conclusion, the authors from the Health Economic Research Group at Brunel University, UK, RAND Europe and King’s College London, entered into their equation net monetary benefits, NMB, defined as the “health benefit valued in monetary terms (determined by the quantity of health benefit and a decision-maker’s willingness to pay for that additional benefit) minus the cost of delivering that health benefit”. They also measured QALYs, quality-adjusted life years to estimate per patient costs of a certain treatment and its benefits. And there are benefits.

Although many still believe cancer research hasn’t really made any progress, statistics tell a different story. In March, Cancer Research UK, in debunking the “ten most persistent cancer myths”, wrote that over the past 40 years, survival rates have doubled in the UK. The recent BMC Medicine study identified the four cancer types, for which cancer research and implemented interventions based on these research findings were the most successful: lung, stomach, bladder and cervical cancer. The most important intervention decreasing the number of incidence cases, in, at least, three of the four cancers turned out to be smoking cessation and/or prevention. The public also benefited from cervical screenings and improved cancer treatment (surgery, radiotherapy and new cytotoxic, hormonal and biological therapies).

“Global research efforts have led to key cancer treatments and interventions that have delivered health gains equivalent to £124 billion [NMB] for UK patients between 1991 and 2010 through prevention, early identification and improved survival,” states the accompanying briefing document. However, those efforts take time. 15 years, on average, from bench to bedside, says the report.

Writing in a blog post for BioMed Central, Daniel Bridge of Cancer Research UK comments, “This study clearly shows that the health benefits that cancer research brings to patients and their families have a very real effect on the economy, and that the wider benefits add up to an even bigger return on investment. (…) In providing us with a better picture of the return on investment it also allows us to present a persuasive case for the UK to keep investing in medical research. For comparison, the UK Government’s own internal accounting methods dictate that, for a policy to be deemed ‘a good investment’, they need to return just 3p per year, for every pound invested. As an investment, medical research knocks that benchmark out of the park.”

Kathleen Gransalke

Photo: www.publicdomainpictures.net/George Hodan




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