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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Conducting retrospective impact analysis to inform a medical research charity’s funding strategies: the case of Asthma UK

Stephen R Hanney1*, Amanda Watt2, Teresa H Jones1 and Leanne Metcalf3

Author Affiliations

1 Health Economics Research Group, Brunel University, Uxbridge UB8 3PH, UK

2 RAND Europe, Westbrook Centre, Milton Road, Cambridge, CB4 1YG, UK

3 Asthma UK, Summit House, 70 Wilson Street, London, EC2A 2DB, UK

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Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology 2013, 9:17  doi:10.1186/1710-1492-9-17

Published: 7 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Debate is intensifying about how to assess the full range of impacts from medical research. Complexity increases when assessing the diverse funding streams of funders such as Asthma UK, a charitable patient organisation supporting medical research to benefit people with asthma. This paper aims to describe the various impacts identified from a range of Asthma UK research, and explore how Asthma UK utilised the characteristics of successful funding approaches to inform future research strategies.

Methods

We adapted the Payback Framework, using it both in a survey and to help structure interviews, documentary analysis, and case studies. We sent surveys to 153 lead researchers of projects, plus 10 past research fellows, and also conducted 14 detailed case studies. These covered nine projects and two fellowships, in addition to the innovative case studies on the professorial chairs (funded since 1988) and the MRC-Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma (the ‘Centre’) which together facilitated a comprehensive analysis of the whole funding portfolio. We organised each case study to capture whatever academic and wider societal impacts (or payback) might have arisen given the diverse timescales, size of funding involved, and extent to which Asthma UK funding contributed to the impacts.

Results

Projects recorded an average of four peer-reviewed journal articles. Together the chairs reported over 500 papers. All streams of funding attracted follow-on funding. Each of the various categories of societal impacts arose from only a minority of individual projects and fellowships. Some of the research portfolio is influencing asthma-related clinical guidelines, and some contributing to product development. The latter includes potentially major breakthroughs in asthma therapies (in immunotherapy, and new inhaled drugs) trialled by university spin-out companies. Such research-informed guidelines and medicines can, in turn, contribute to health improvements. The role of the chairs and the pioneering collaborative Centre is shown as being particularly important.

Conclusions

We systematically demonstrate that all types of Asthma UK’s research funding assessed are making impacts at different levels, but the main societal impacts from projects and fellowships come from a minority of those funded. Asthma UK used the study’s findings, especially in relation to the Centre, to inform research funding strategies to promote the achievement of impact.

Keywords:
Asthma; Asthma UK; Research impacts; Societal impacts; Clinical guidelines; University spin-out companies; Product development; Immunotherapy; Payback Framework; Research funding strategy