News roundup

Published: 18 December 2018

Ireland invested €752 million in health-related research between 2011 and 2015

The Health Research Board (HRB) has published the first Irish report on national expenditure on health research in Ireland for the five years from 2011 to 2015.

Picture of the graphs from the front cover of Health Research in Ireland - A study of activity from 2011 to 2015 using the Health Research Classification System

The study examines funding awards based on the type of research being done and the disease area of interest. It uses the United Kingdom (UK) Health Research Classification System (HRCS) which provides a common language for examining health research investment* (See note below).

Dr Darrin Morrissey, CEO at the HRB says,

‘Ireland makes significant public investments in health research, which deliver substantial societal and economic benefits. Health research attracts funding from many different sources and it is interesting to see how much co-funding non-public partners are contributing to the national public funding pot and who these partners are'.

'We already have strong pharma and medtec sectors in Ireland so industry is an obvious partner, but the report suggests that partners such as the HSE, the charity sector and European collaborations are becoming increasingly important ’.

'Having a comprehensive national dataset of research funding, that is internationally comparable, could help increase the impact of investment in health research by highlighting opportunities for collaboration, both in Ireland and internationally'.

Seven national funding agencies (Enterprise Ireland (EI), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the HRB, the Irish Research Council (IRC), the Marine Institute (MI), Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), and Teagasc) and two Government Departments (the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) that manage research programmes provided data for this analysis.

Some key findings

In total, there were 1,513 health research awards, with a value of just over €752 million, made between 2011 and 2015. These awards supported research with many different objectives:

  • expanding our knowledge and understanding of health and disease
  • improving health care and services, strengthening the enterprise base,
  • building the capacity for and expertise in high quality health research,
  • generating the evidence to inform policy and regulation.

The focus of investment in specific disease areas varied by participating agency and was generally in line with their specific remits as described in the report.

Cancerand Neoplasms research received the greatest share of health-specific funding (€93.1 million; 20.7%), and funding was provided by all participating agencies except the Marine Institute. This is in line with results from similar analysis in the United Kingdom and Norway, where Cancerand Neoplasms research also accounted for the largest proportion of total funding.

Other health-specific health categories in which significant funding was awarded included Infection (11.3%), Neurological (11.0%), Oral and Gastrointestinal (9.2%), Cardiovascular and Stroke (10.1%), Mental Health (6.6%), and Reproductive Health and Childbirth (5.7%).

€209 million supported development of the infrastructure, networks, and platforms that enable health-related research. This type of investment was particularly important in supporting research to understand the causes diseases and ill health, research on the prevention of disease and promotion of well-being, and research on developing and evaluating therapies and other healthcare interventions.

Co-funding accounted for €100 million to the total pot. Co-funding was most evident in the portfolios of EI, the IRC, the HRB, and SFI, who collectively made 94% of co-funded awards.

In terms of co-funding partners, industry co-funding accounted for over 60% of co-funded awards, but other national and international funding agencies (24%), medical research charities and philanthropy (9%), and governmental and health bodies (4%) were also important sources of co-funding.

When the Irish data on research activity type and disease area focus was compared to HRCS analyses conducted in the UK and Norway, this revealed many similarities, as well as some variation across funding portfolios. Given the very different research systems in operation in Ireland, the UK, and Norway, and the differing scales of the datasets, greater divergence in both research activity and health categories might have been anticipated.

According to Dr Maura Hiney, Head of Post-award and Evaluation at the HRB and lead author of the report,

'We now have a baseline for future trend analysis of Irish health research investment that allows us to track the effects on spending of changes in Government R&D strategy'.

'To maximise the positive impact of our investment in health research we need to have a clear picture of where the HRB and other funding agencies and Government Departments spend their money, and where there may be gaps. With this report, we have a national picture for the first time'.

You can download a copy of the report Health Research in Ireland - A study of activity from 2011 to 2015 using the Health Research Classification System from the publications section of the HRB website.

Note * The Health Research Classification System (HRCS) is a way of examining how biomedical and health research funding is invested. The HRCS captures the main purpose of the research taking place within the lifetime of the project, not any potential future outcomes. Funding awards are classified in two ways: research activity and health category.

Firstly, they are assigned up to two research activity codes. These codes cover the full spectrum of research, from basic across to health system organisation, and include both healthy functioning and disease.

Secondly, funding awards are assigned up to five health categories, which are associated with systems in the body or with broader health-related research activities. Together, research activity codes and health categories provide a two-dimensional way at looking at health research investment.