Global Funding for Cancer Research: 2016–2020

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In a study reported in The Lancet Oncology, McIntosh et al identified components of global funding for cancer research—both public and philanthropic—between 2016 and 2020. 

Study Details

The study used data from the UberResearch Dimensions database and Cancer Research UK data on human cancer research funding awards from public and philanthropic funders between January 2016 and December 2020. The UberResearch Dimensions database includes 6 million grant awards worth U.S. $2.3 trillion from 656 funders worldwide.

Key Findings

A total of 66,388 awards representing a total investment of approximately U.S. $24.5 billion were identified for 2016 through 2020.

Investment decreased in each year of the study, from approximately $6.6 billion in 2016 (27% of total funding over the study period) to $2.9 billion (11.9% of total funding) in 2020—coincident with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. A 45% decrease in funding was observed between 2019 and 2020.

Allocation of the funding across the study period consisted of 73.5% ($18 billion) for preclinical research, 7.4% ($1.8 billion) for phase I to IV clinical trials, 9.4% ($2.3 billion) for public health research, and 5.0% ($1.2 billion) for cross-disciplinary research.

General cancer research received the largest investment ($7.1 billion, 29.2% of total funding). The most highly funded cancer types were breast cancer ($2.7 billion, 11.2%), hematologic cancer ($2.3 billion, 9.4%), and brain cancer ($1.3 billion, 5.5%).

In analysis by cross-cutting theme, 41.2% of the total investment ($9.6 billion) went to cancer biology research, 19.6% ($4.6 billion) to drug treatment research, 12.1% ($2.8 billion) to immuno-oncology, 2.8% ($0.7 billion) to radiotherapy research, 1.4% ($0.3 billion) to surgery research, and 0.5% ($0.1 billion) to global health studies.

By country, the United States provided 57.3% of total funding ($14.0 billion), followed by the United Kingdom (9.8%), the European Commission (5.4%), China (4.4%), and Japan (4.1%).

The investigators concluded, “Cancer research funding must be aligned with the global burden of cancer with more equitable funding for cancer research in low-income and middle-income countries (which account for 80% of cancer burden), both to support research relevant to these settings, and build research capacity within these countries. There is an urgent need to prioritize investment in surgery and radiotherapy research given their primacy in the treatment of many solid tumors.”

Stuart McIntosh, MBChB, PhD, FRCS, of the Patrick G. Johnston Centre for Cancer Research, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast, is the corresponding author for The Lancet Oncology article.

Disclosure: The investigators reported that there was no external funding for the study. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.