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The Universities Superannuation Scheme pension fund has invested £211m in the tobacco industry.Getty Images

The financial future of the UK's cancer scientists depends on one of their biggest adversaries – tobacco. The annual report on the pension fund of thousands of academics and researchers in the country showed that a sizeable amount is being invested in the tobacco industry.

Scientists working with Cancer Research UK are among the list of those whose pensions are managed by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)which as of March 2015 had invested £211m ($308m) in British American Tobacco.

Cancer Research UK itself does not invest any of its employees' pensions in tobacco but a number of the researchers funded by the organisation have their futures invested through the USS which in 2015 was worth £49bn.

"The tobacco industry's deadly products are responsible for one in four cancer deaths," George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK's tobacco policy manager said.

"Many people would be shocked to learn that their pensions are invested in tobacco company shares – especially those striving to develop cures for diseases caused by this lethal industry."

However, University UK which represents various principals and vice-chancellors has defended the USS stating that it is a responsible and engaged investor. "USS, as part of its investment duties, takes into account wider social, ethical, and environmental and governance issues, so long as that ensures that the assets of the scheme are invested in the best financial interest of members and their beneficiaries," said a spokesman.

"They have for example, undertaken engagement with tobacco companies on marketing approaches and regulations around e-cigarettes."

Those working to cure cancer are still unhappy with the idea that their pensions are being planted in tobacco. Calling it outrageous, one unnamed scientist told the Guardian: "All the work of this institute is done under the guidance of CRUK, and we are, quite rightly, regularly reviewed to ensure that CRUK money is being spent effectively and efficiently in the global fight against cancer. How can this possibly be in line with the fact that most of us will retire comfortably on money earned from tobacco investments?"

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