New partnership to accelerate arthritis therapy

The University of Birmingham will be partnering with the University of Oxford to speed up the development of new treatments for arthritis. This has been supported by a £7 million investment from the Kennedy Trust for Rheumatology Research.
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The partnership will be based at the Institute of Translational Medicine in Birmingham and the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology at Oxford and will harness the existing research strengths of both universities in order to accelerate the development and testing of new therapies for patients. The Arthritis Therapy Acceleration Programme (A-TAP) will develop and test therapies based on the underlying causes of inflammatory disease, rather than simply treating the clinical symptoms.

Further boost for Birmingham Health Partners

The ‘M40 alliance’, which will develop a network of consultants, nurses and clinical researchers in clinical units along the M40 corridor will add a further boost to the region’s stellar collaboration across Birmingham Health Partners (BHP), the strategic alliance between the University of Birmingham and three major teaching hospitals; the Shelford Group member University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHBFT), Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Birmingham Women’s Hospital.

Professor Christopher Buckley from the University of Birmingham will take up a new role as Director of Clinical Research at the Kennedy Institute to oversee the A-TAP. This role will be equally split between Birmingham and Oxford Universities.

Accelerating new treatments for patients

Professor Fiona Powrie, Director of the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology in Oxford, said: “This exciting initiative will allow us to place basic research at the heart of innovative new clinical trials. Lots of new molecular targets have been identified recently for a range of immune mediated inflammatory diseases like arthritis, yet there remains a time lag between identification of drugs, the choice of which disease to use them in, and their adoption into clinical practice. By identifying the underlying causes of disease we will be able to bridge current knowledge gaps and match therapy to underlying disease pathology. Both of our institutions have a wealth of expertise in the field of arthritis, and by joining forces we can both speed up and widen our research into the root causes of arthritis, accelerating new treatments towards those most likely to benefit.”

Professor Chris Buckley explains: “The current rate limiting step in experimental medicine is not how to design new and safe drugs but how to improve their efficacy beyond the current best treatments, and how to best match their use to the right disease. Our A-TAP will use strategies that have worked in the cancer field to both repurpose drugs to new indications, as well as using innovative concepts in trial design such as bucket trials where one drug is tried out in a range of different inflammatory diseases at an early stage. This will help us work out which drug is most likely to work for which disease at a much earlier stage than is currently possible”

Investing in new posts

In addition to the new funding from the Kennedy Trust, both Birmingham and Oxford have invested significantly in infrastructure and people, an investment that will directly support the A-TAP. Each institution will invest more than £3 million in new and existing research posts, with four new research posts being created at Birmingham, and six new posts created at Oxford.

The Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust though Birmingham Health Partners and the Oxford NIHR Biomedical Research Centre in the M40 alliance have also invested in new posts, and will use their recently funded NIHR BRCs to help deliver this exciting programme.

In addition to clinical centres in Birmingham and Oxford, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire will also be involved, with the two A-TAP Hubs being situated in the Institute of Translational Medicine in Birmingham and the Botnar Research Centre in Oxford.

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