Patient-specific treatment to come for rheumatoid arthritis and hepatitis C sufferers

Posted on 10 Dec 2012

The Medical Research Council is investing £10.6m in three major new collaborations investigating why patients with the same diagnosis respond differently to treatments.

The collaborations will look at rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C and a rare genetic condition called Gaucher disease to improve understanding so that of the diseases enable doctors to prescribe drugs and therapies that are tailored to an individual’s genetic make-up.

The Prime Minister unveiled a new report called Strategy for UK Life Sciences One Year On today. It states that a better understanding of the mechanisms behind rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C and Gaucher disease will one day vastly improving their chances of getting better and reducing their risk of experiencing serious side-effects.

Research groups have been set up for each of the three diseases to draw on the expertise of scientists, industry and patient charities. The three consortia will combine 34 academic groups and 20 industry partners with charities and patients across the UK.

“Stratified medicine is all about selecting the right drug, for the right patient, at the right time,” said Professor Patrick Johnston, chair of The Medical Research Council’s Translational Research Group.

“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.”

Stratified medicine is a completely new approach to scientific research and medical care. It groups patients into groups 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.

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said that the consortiums “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.”

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Queen Mary, University of London, will lead research on painful inflammatory condition rheumatoid arthritis. The consortium will seek to find early, effective treatment and improve the cost-effectiveness of care for the 500,000 people in the UK who suffer from the disease.

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.

Medical director of Arthritis Research UK, Professor Alan Silman said that this “will allow people with rheumatoid arthritis to be started on drugs which they will benefit from most.”

If successful it is estimated that a stratified treatment approach for this condition could save the NHS between £13m and £18m a year. Twelve academic groups will work alongside nine industry partners: Activiomics, Amgen, Complete Genomics, Genentech, Janssen Research and Development, MedImmune, Pfizer, Qiagen Limited and UCB Pharma.

Hepatitis C

The University of Oxford is leading STOP-HCV, will develop cutting-edge gene sequencing technologies to find out why 30% 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 use a clinical database and bio-repository of blood samples from people infected with hepatitis C created by HCV Research UK. 

Medivir AB, United Therapeutics, Janssen Diagnostics, Oncimmune, Gilead, Merck Sharp & Dohme, Okairos and Conatus will team up with universities to decipher the genetic makeup of both the virus and the patient and draw this information together to improve patient care.

Gaucher disease

A consortium to improve the treatment of people with Gaucher, a rare genetic disorder in which a build-up of fatty chemicals causes bleeding, painful skeletal complaints and swelling of internal organs, appears most challenging.

Even identical twins differ markedly in disease severity, indicating that non-genetic components play a role in the condition.

Five treatments are currently available, but patients could respond differently to drugs because of the complexity of the disease. Specialist doctors and scientists brought together by the University of Cambridge will examine 85% of all UK Gaucher patients and categorise them to target better therapy interventions.

There are fewer industrial partners due to the rarity of the disease compared to Hepatitis C and rheumatoid arthritis, with three companies involved in the research: Shire, Genzyme and Actelion.

Type 1 Gaucher disease is the most common form with one in 100,000 people in the general population found with defective genes. The defective genes are more common among Ashkenazi Jews.