Arthritis Research UK in new £10m MRC stratified medicine research plan

Published on 10 December 2012

Arthritis Research UK has announced its involvement with the Medical Research Council’s £10.6m investment in three major new collaborations that will advance the emerging field of stratified medicine – investigating why different patients with the same diagnosis respond differently to treatments.

The collaborations, announced today (December 10) by the Prime Minister David Cameron in a report on UK life sciences, will deliver a better understanding of the mechanisms behind these diseases will one day enable doctors to prescribe drugs and therapies that are tailored to an individual’s genetic make-up, vastly improving their chances of getting better and reducing their risk of experiencing serious side-effects.

The collaborations will look at stratified medicine approaches in three diseases which have a huge impact on people’s lives: rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C and a rare genetic condition called Gaucher disease. The awards will establish research consortia in each of these diseases in order to draw on the expertise of scientists, industry and patient charities, underpinned by the infrastructure of the NHS. The three consortia will combine 34 academic groups and 20 industry partners with charities and patients across the UK.

Professor Patrick Johnston, Chair of the MRC’s Translational Research Group, which funded the awards, said: “Stratified medicine is all about selecting the right drug, for the right patient, at the right time. Only by harnessing a diverse mix of knowledge and expertise from across academia, industry and medical charities can we gain the deeper understanding of illnesses needed to make those decisions and deliver more effective treatments targeted to patients’ needs. The consortia funded by the MRC will allow UK researchers and health professionals to take those important first steps to developing a stratified approach to patient care.”

Professor Alan SilmanMedical director of Arthritis Research UK, Professor Alan Silman said: “We are delighted to be working in collaboration with the MRC as part of this major initiative, as developing stratified medicine in inflammatory arthritis is one of our major research focuses. We are aiming to identify treatment response predictors that will allow people with rheumatoid arthritis to be started on drugs which they will benefit from most, early in the disease process.”

“Biologic drugs such as anti-TNF therapy – whose development was spearheaded by Arthritis Research UK - have transformed the treatment of inflammatory arthritis in recent years. However, more than 30 per cent of patients do not respond to these drugs, or have side-effects. At the moment we have no means of predicting which patients will respond best to which therapy, so the drugs are prescribed on a ‘trial and error’ basis. We aim to identify blood or tissue markers that will help to target the right treatment to the right patients with rheumatoid arthritis at the best time. “

Stratified medicine is a completely new approach to scientific research and medical care. It groups patients into ‘strata’ based on differences in the way they experience a particular disease and how that affects their response to treatment. Before this can happen, groups of patients must be studied to understand what it is about their genetic and physical make-up that determines these differences.

Professor Costantino PitzalisThe MATURA consortium, led by Professor Costantino Pitzalis of Queen Mary, University of London, aims to enable early, effective treatment and improve the cost-effectiveness of care for around 500,000 people in the UK who suffer from the painful inflammatory condition rheumatoid arthritis. It will search for biological and genetic markers in blood and joints which could be used as clues to predict how patients will respond to anti-inflammatory drugs. If successful it is estimated that a stratified treatment approach for this condition could save the NHS £13-18m a year. Co-funded by a £1m grant from Arthritis Research UK, the project combines 12 academic groups with nine industry partners.

The £60m, four-year MRC investment in stratified medicine research was announced as part of the UK Life Sciences Strategy on the 5 December 2011. The MRC received 30 outline applications in 28 disease areas for the initiative. An expert panel - comprising clinicians; academics; representatives of pharmaceutical, biotechnology and diagnostics companies; disease charities and international members - shortlisted six applications which were invited to submit full applications. The MRC has developed a rolling programme for consortia development and other disease areas will soon be competing for funding.

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said: “These consortia bring together the UK’s world class universities, health charities and industry to improve drug development. They have the potential to improve patient care and help make the UK the location of choice for clinical trials. This will help us get ahead in the global race.”