A unique partnership for RA research

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently established an exciting new research funding partnership. Over $230 million will be invested over the first five years of the network. Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus (Lupus) will each represent a focal area of research1 with Alzheimer’s receiving the bulk of the funds ($129.5 million).2 In the press release, NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. is quoted as saying, “These awards represent the first phase of an unprecedented approach to identify pathways that are critical to disease progression in rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.Insights gained from this effort hold the promise of enhancing quality of life for patients and family members affected by these and other devastating autoimmune diseases.3

The partnership includes a broad coalition of partners from the federal government, ten of the biggest pharmaceutical companies, private foundations, and numerous university researchers. The overall network will be lead by Dr. Paul J. Utz from Stanford University and Dr. V. Michael Holers at the University of Colorado. One unique aspect of the network is the comprehensive nature of the efforts through ten coordinated research sites. Some sites will focus on clinical work, some will focus on technology, and others will combine clinical work with technology. Target areas of research include genetics, large data set analyses, biological pathways, blood samples, tissues and cells, the immune system, treatment targets, disease stages, and drug development. Data will be made publically available in an effort to share information with any interested researchers. Samples from patients will be linked to genetic information and biological pathways in an effort to determine why some patients don’t respond to various treatments. The hope is that new, more effective treatments will emerge from this research.

Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, both autoimmune diseases that share some similarities, will receive $41.6 million over the five years of the initial funding with the government and industry contributions split evenly.4 The partnership component focusing on RA and Lupus is called the Accelerating Medicines Partnership in Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus (AMP RA/Lupus) Network. The research plan for AMP RA/Lupus is designed to occur over three phases.5 The first phase involves collecting tissue samples and standardizing methods. The second phase will involve data analysis in an effort distinguish between disease and non-disease samples. The last phase will focus on testing in larger populations of patients and distinguishing between patients who respond and those who don’t respond to treatments. In relating this project to RA, Dr. Stephen I. Katz, Director of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases stated, "To date, treatments for RA and lupus have been aimed at decreasing inflammation and pain. For the first time, we are bringing together multidisciplinary research teams to achieve a broad, systems-level understanding of these diseases, setting the stage for the development of more effective diagnostic and treatment approaches."2

For rheumatoid arthritis patients, especially those for whom current treatments don’t work well, this represents an exciting endeavor and brings hope that one day more effective treatments, and perhaps even a cure, will be developed. For more information on the network, go to the AMP RA/Lupus project plan website - here.

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