An open letter to BHF-funded researchers, past and present

Jun 23, 2020

An open letter to BHF-funded researchers, past and present, from our Medical Director, Professor Sir Nilesh Samani.  Please share widely with colleagues.

I write to provide you with an update on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on BHF research funding and the steps we are taking, informed by consultation with the research community, to mitigate this.

The Covid-19 crisis is the biggest challenge the BHF has faced in its 60-year history. The closure of our shops and the cancellation of our fundraising events, including the iconic London to Brighton bike ride, have led to a major reduction in the income that normally fuels our research spend. Our current forecast is that BHF net income in 2020-21 will be 50 percent lower than that in the previous financial year.

We are working hard to maintain our capacity to fund research, through innovative fundraising campaigns, reopening our shops when it is safe to do so, and finding cost-saving measures where possible. However, without a significant upturn in circumstances, there will be a commensurate reduction in our annual research budget, which will fall from £100 million to around £50 million this year. Furthermore, recovery towards pre-pandemic levels of research funding in coming years is uncertain, particularly in the tough economic climate that many predict.

The BHF funds more than half of all non-commercial UK cardiovascular research. Such a sharp, and possibly sustained, fall in our funding will have a devastating effect on the UK’s outstanding cardiovascular research base. I know that, like me, you will be deeply concerned about the impact this will have on the world-leading advances UK cardiovascular research generates, the careers of thousands of researchers, in particular young scientists, and most importantly the lives of people with heart and circulatory diseases.

We have already taken several steps to protect the research we currently fund to allow successful completion:

  • We will allow no cost extensions to all our current research grants with the flexibility to vire between cost headings.
  • We have established a process to request costed extensions to those grants that are most severely impacted.
  • We will shortly announce a scheme for stipend extensions for our PhD students in the final or penultimate year of their studies.
  • We are developing bespoke mechanisms to enable completion of clinical trials and translational projects.

I encourage you to visit our website for up-to-date information on these and other developments (bhf.org.uk/for-professionals/information-for-researchers).

We also plan to continue to make new research awards. We are keeping all our research grant schemes open, so we can fund the best research across the full spectrum and at the appropriate scale. A strong focus will be on ensuring that we continue to support promising early career researchers. Our research funding committees will continue to meet (virtually) as normal and make their recommendations. However, in addition, we have begun to ask committees to rank applications that they have recommended for funding, to get a prioritisation order. Once all committees have met in each quarter, a meeting of committee chairs and vice chairs will be held, at which final funding decisions will be made in light of the available budget.

You will know that the issues facing the BHF are not unique and apply across the medical research charity sector. Indeed, some research charities are considering even more drastic actions. Therefore, since the start of the crisis, we have been calling on the Government to partner with the medical charity sector, to establish a Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund. This co-investment scheme could provide matched funding from Government for future charity funded research over the next 3-5 years, to secure sustained progress in tackling the nation’s biggest health problems, including heart and circulatory diseases, cancer, dementia, and many more.

Unfortunately, we do not feel our voice is being heard. Our Chief Executive Dr Charmaine Griffiths joined, on 23 June, a panel of charity chief executives at a press conference, in which they will publicly call on the Government to act. I know you will do all you can to support this call to action; feel free to support it through social channels or other media.

In closing, I want to reassure you that, even as we face such substantial challenges, our commitment to leading the fight against heart and circulatory diseases by empowering innovative research remains undiminished. As does our pride in the world-leading work that our researchers do with BHF support.

I wish you, your loved ones and your research teams well. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with any comments or questions (research@bhf.org.uk).

 

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani

BHF Medical Director


We need your help to protect our life saving research

The Covid-19 crisis has been the biggest challenge the BHF has faced in its 60-year history. By alerting your MP to the challenges we're facing, you can help protect our world leading research base.

For guidance on writing to your MP, please visit the BHF website.


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