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The current state of respiratory research in the UK
  1. Noel Snell1,
  2. Ian Jarrold1,
  3. Stephen Holgate2
  1. 1Research Department, British Lung Foundation, London, UK
  2. 2Faculty of Medicine Clinical and Experimental Sciences, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Noel Snell, Research Department, British Lung Foundation, 73-75 Goswell Road, London EC1V 7ER, UK; noel.snell{at}

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In 1985, Malcolm (now Sir Malcolm) Green wrote a Thorax editorial bemoaning the lack of funding for research into respiratory diseases in the UK and announcing the launch of a new charity devoted to raising funds specifically for respiratory research—the British Lung Foundation (BLF).1 Subsequent reviews from the BLF and other perspectives reaffirmed the theme of relative underfunding for research in respiratory disorders compared with other disease areas with a comparable disease burden.2–4 As the BLF celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, it seems an appropriate time to take stock of the current situation.

Figure 1 is derived from data generated by the UK Clinical Research Collaboration.5 It shows very clearly the marked disparity in research spending on respiratory disorders compared with other comparable disease areas, both in absolute terms and also, more tellingly, in relation to disease burden as measured by WHO disability-adjusted life-year rates in the UK. There is little real change in the relative spends between 2004–2005 and 2009–2010. A third report is due to be published later this year; we await the updated figures with interest.

Figure 1

Comparison of proportion of combined spend on health-specific categories with WHO DALY rates. Data taken from ref. 5, with permission. DALY, disability-adjusted life-year.

We have attempted to obtain figures for recent spending on UK respiratory research by government agencies (the Medical Research Council, MRC; and National Institute for Health Research, NIHR) and relevant major charities (see table 1). The annual research spend by each body is the most recent full-year figure obtainable from publicly-available annual reports (financial years and reporting periods differ between the various bodies; hence, the period covered lies between 2012 and 2015).

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Table 1

Annual spend on respiratory research by major government agencies and charities

It can be seen that …

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