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Queen Mary to lead multi-million pound rheumatoid arthritis research consortium

Queen Mary, University of London is to lead a multi-million pound research collaboration looking at ways of improving treatment for rheumatoid arthritis through the emerging field of stratified medicine.

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Professor Costantino Pitzalis
Professor Costantino Pitzalis

The MATURA consortium 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.

The project is one of three stratified medicine consortia announced today by the Medical Research Council (MRC), which is investing £10.6million in the projects. The MATURA consortium has been awarded around £4.7million in principle by the MRC over four years and is co-funded by a £1million grant from Arthritis Research UK.

Stratified medicine involves looking at large groups of patients with the same condition to understand why individuals respond differently to the same treatments.  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 MATURA consortium will be led by Professor Costantino Pitzalis, from Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, part of Queen Mary. It will search for biological and genetic markers in blood and joints, as clues to how patients will respond to powerful and very expensive anti-inflammatory drugs called biologics, which cost around £10,000 per patient a year. If successful it is estimated that a stratified treatment approach for this condition could save the NHS £13-18million a year.

Professor Pitzalis said: “There are currently a number of biologic treatments which we know work well in many patients, but won’t work in a significant proportion of patients (approximately 40 per cent). At the moment, we have no way of predicting who they will or won’t work for without actually giving patients the drugs.

“Being able to accurately predict whether a treatment will work would mean we can target treatments to the individuals for greater clinical effectiveness and also save the NHS millions.”

The MATURA consortium combines 12 academic groups with nine industry partners.

Medical 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.”

Researchers from Queen Mary are also involved in a second collaboration announced today. STOP HCV, a hepatitis C consortium led by the University of Oxford, will develop cutting-edge gene sequencing technologies to find out why 30 per cent of people fail to respond to a new type of hepatitis treatment called direct antiviral therapy.

The group of 14 academic institutions and eight industry partners will collect blood samples from 10,000 people across the UK into a single bio-bank linked to a state-of the art clinical database. This information will help them to decipher the genetic makeup of both the virus and the patient and draw this information together to improve patient care.

Professor Graham Foster will lead the Queen Mary arm of the collaboration, which will be investigating the management of patients with a specific type of the disease, known as genotype 3 hepatitis C.

The £60million, four-year MRC investment in stratified medicine research was announced as part of the UK Life Sciences Strategy on 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.

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