From the Journals

Female cancer researchers receive less funding than male counterparts



Female cancer researchers receive significantly less funding than their male counterparts in terms of total investment, number of awards, and mean and median funding, according to an analysis of data on public and philanthropic cancer research funding awarded to U.K. institutions between 2000 and 2013.

In an analysis of 4,186 awards totaling 2.33 billion pounds, 2,890 grants (69%) with a total value of 1.82 billion pounds (78%) were awarded to male primary investigators (PIs), compared with just 1,296 grants (31%) with a total value of 512 million pounds(22%) for female PIs, investigators reported in BMJ Open.

Investigators studied openly accessible information on funding awards from public and philanthropic sources including the Medical Research Council, Department of Health, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, Wellcome Trust, European Commission, and nine members of the Association of Medical Research Charities. Awards were excluded if they were not relevant to oncology, led by a non-U.K. institution, and/or not considered a research and development activity, wrote Charlie D. Zhou, MD, of the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust Department of Nuclear Medicine in London, and coauthors.

Median grant value was greater for men (252,647 pounds; interquartile range, 127,343-553,560 pounds) than for women (198,485 pounds; IQR, 99,317-382,650 pounds) (P less than .001). Mean grant value was also greater for men (630,324 pounds; standard deviation, 1,662,559 pounds) than for women (394,730 pounds; SD, 666,574 pounds), Dr. Zhou and colleagues reported.

Large funding discrepancies were seen for sex-specific cancer research. For instance, males received 13.8, 3.5, and 2.0 times the investment of their female counterparts in total, mean, and median prostate cancer funding, respectively. Likewise, men received 9.9, 6.6, and 2.9 times the funding of women PIs in total, mean, and median funding, respectively, for cervical cancer research. This pattern was true for ovarian cancer and breast cancer research, as well.

Men also received significantly greater median funding at all points of the research and development pipeline. For preclinical, phase 1, 2, or 3 clinical trials; and public health, men received 20%, 90%, and 50% more, respectively (P less than .001); for product development and cross-disciplinary research, the difference was 50% and 20%, respectively (P less than .01).

The results of the analysis demonstrate that “female PIs clearly and consistently receive less funding than their male counterparts,” the authors wrote. Although the study results are descriptive in nature and do not identify the underlying mechanisms for these discrepancies, they “demonstrate substantial gender imbalances in cancer research investment.


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