Via statistical analysis, researchers found that there is a strong correlation between cancer research funding and research output, but one was not observed between research output or funding with cancer mortality


It is promising to know that with advances in medical knowledge, the survival rate for most cancers has effectively increased over time. However, because of the recent reduction in research funding, it is important for clinical professionals to optimize the use of the limited amount of resources available in order to generate the greatest amount of “payback”.

Payback is defined as the societal worth of clinical research, and is comprised of five outcomes: knowledge production, research targeting and capacity, informing policy, health and health sector benefits, as well as economic benefits. In a study published in Current Oncology, a team of researchers focused on the element of knowledge production, which could be measured in terms of the volume of scientific publications and clinical trials, to outline current relationships between disease burden (cancer mortality), amount of research output, and the level of funding provided. It was hypothesized that research output is not proportionate to the relative mortality of most cancers, but is directly associated with the amount of research funding allocated.

To test this hypothesis, the researchers compiled a top ten list of cancers that had caused the greatest number of deaths using 2013 statistics derived from the Canadian Cancer Society and the American Cancer Society. The top ten cancers included were lung, colorectal, breast, prostate, pancreatic, bladder, gastroesophageal, melanoma, kidney, and uterine cancers. The amount of research output was identified through the OVID MEDLINE database and was restricted to publications in English that involved adult human subjects who were 19 years old or older. Clinical trials were identified by filtering the publications by type. To assess the amount of research funding given, data was obtained from the 2011 report by the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance. It was described that of the CA$548.3 million provided, CA$282.4 million was allocated to the ten cancers of interest.

Statistical analysis was performed using the SAS software application and results were assessed using the Pearson correlation coefficient and linear regression. A statistically significant correlation is defined by a p value that is less than 0.05. Through the assessment, it was evident that there was a lower proportion of research output (publications and clinical trials) than the proportion of mortality for lung, colorectal, pancreatic, and gastroesophageal cancers. In contrast, there was a greater proportion of research output than the proportion of mortality for breast, prostate, kidney, melanoma, and uterine cancers. It is concluded that the relationship between proportional mortality and the total volume of publications, as well as clinical trials, was not statistically significant.

Findings have also reflected the fact that research funding for each cancer had varied greatly from the proportional mortality. For instance, breast and prostate cancer deaths encompassed 17% of all mortality due to cancer in Canada, but received more than 61% of the research funding distributed. Although the level of research funding does not correlate with proportional mortality, it does however strongly correlate with the amount of research output. In other words, the data suggests that there is no significant connection between public health burden of different cancers and the amount of research conducted on it.

This study along with previous investigations have demonstrated that certain cancers such as lung, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers are underrepresented in research funding and output. On the other hand, breast and prostate cancer and leukemia receive much greater investment relative to their burden. Hence, it is important to ensure that other cancers with high public health burden also receive sufficient amounts of funding for research. Although research output is not strongly correlated to cancer mortality, it is unmistakable that clinical research is an imperative tool for improving medical understanding and patient outcomes. With a greater amount of research investment, one can expect a recompensing output in terms of clinical trials and publications.




Written By: Michelle Tu, BSc

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