09 Mar 2011   |   News

New report helps inform decisions about how science should be funded

Clinical research has greater societal impact over a 15-20 year timescale, while basic research has greater academic impact, according to a new study

Project Retrosight, a multinational, four-year study has investigated the translation of basic biomedical research and clinical cardiovascular and stroke research, to assess the impact on future work, policy, products and healthcare.

The study, carried out by the independent research organisation RAND Europe and the Health Economics Research Group (HERG) at Brunel University in the UK, is based on 29 case studies of grants for research conducted in these areas that were awarded 15-20 years ago.

Five key findings from the study are:

  • A large and diverse range of impacts arose from the 29 grants studied;
  • There are variations between the impacts derived from basic biomedical and clinical research;
  • There is no correlation between knowledge production and wider impacts;
  • The majority of economic impacts identified come from a minority of projects;
  • Different factors were identified that appear to be associated with high and low impact

The study, carried out by a consortium of research partners in Australia, Canada and the UK, used a common structure for examining the research funding process and understanding research impact.

Steven Wooding, Research Leader at RAND Europe, who lead the study says it shows research is important, has real tangible benefits for society and that how it is funded matters. “If you want to make a difference to patients over a 15-20 year time-scale, clinical research is more effective. If you want to build knowledge for the longer-term, then basic research is better.”

Martin Buxton at HERG added, “Project Retrosight builds on successful methodologies already used to evaluate diabetes and arthritis research funding. We hope its further applications will inform future research funding in more medical disciplines.”

Each of the case studies on which the research for the project is based, was developed using a range of methods, including structured interviews, document and literature reviews, and bibliometrics. Once the fieldwork was completed, the case studies were systematically rated by an international panel of experts to identify those considered relatively high or low in terms of impact in each payback category.

“Given more opportunities for investment in research than can be supported today, funders need better data and information on which to make important decisions,” said Jonathan Grant, President of RAND Europe and a member of the project team. “Project Retrosight deepens our knowledge of the 'science of science' to understand what works in research funding.”

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