A new survey has shown that the cancer research funding gap between the US and Europe is narrowing, with the UK is set to become the world leader on a per capita basis.
Prof. Richard Sullivan, chair of the European Cancer Research Managers Forum (ECRM), launched the organisation's second survey at the European Parliament this morning, which examines how the €3.2bn spent in Europe on cancer research in 2004 was used.
Prof. Sullivan told DrugResearcher.com that the data debunk the myth that Europe is often seen as a very poor cousin to the US in terms of the money spent researching this disease.
"A major part of this study has been its ability to estimate the cancer research funding flowing through national healthcare and university systems in Europe, but there has also been a real increase in some Member State funding whilst the US shrinks in real terms."
The largest increase has been in the UK, with a 202 per cent increase since 2003. It now spends €783m - more than twice the next highest Member State (Germany on €324m). This equates to around €14 per capita, and although the US spend stands at €17.61 per capita, the rapid growth in the UK combined with the fact that the data is from 2004 indicates that there is a very real chance the UK has already overtaken the US and is now the best funded country in the world, according to Prof. Sullivan.
However, Prof. Sullivan did sound a warning that bureaucracy and over-management is swallowing up too much cash.
He said: "The impact of regulatory policy on research funding and productivity remains a critical issue for all countries.
"Over the last decade the fashion for ever increasing regulation across all domains - clinical trials, healthcare data, human tissue - has led to an undesirable increase in the unit cost of research in the absence of any tangible social benefit from many of these regulations."
The US is even more over-regulated and over-managed, said Prof. Sullivan, and Europe must take heed if it is not to fall into the same trap. As more money becomes locked up, designing research projects becomes ever more convoluted and difficult.
He believes the key to solving this problem is for all concerned to simplify and harmonise. However, first they must present a single coherent voice to regulators and also to engage more with the general public, who don't know what the policy issues are.
Among scientists, complaints about bureaucracy are rife, few are willing to stand up and actually do something about it - and now is the time, before it becomes too late.
Prof. Sullivan explained that too many Member States are not pulling their weight in cancer funding. While 60 per cent of the countries have increased cancer funding in real terms, 30 per cent have not.
"It is clear that some governments are still failing to appropriately support cancer research. For these countries the need for specific policy actions to ensure a limited core of high quality research within their institutions - relative to their R&D budgets - is crucial if these Member States have aspirations to become major locations for cancer research in the future," he said.
He went on to explain that with the emergence of Asia as major new hub of R&D, all the European countries can't "sit on their laurels" or they will lose more funding to these countries.
A spokesperson for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), told DrugResearcher.com that while regulations are critical, more bureaucracy doesn't necessarily mean better research and that governments need to get the balance right.
"We need less but better regulation," he said.