Collaborative Project Launched in UK to Improve Lupus Therapies

Ines Martins, PhD avatar

by Ines Martins, PhD |

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lupus drugA new project is being launched by George Freeman MP, the British Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Life Sciences in collaboration with several academic facilities and industry partners to improve treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in the UK. The MAximizing Sle ThERapeutic PotentiaL by Application of Novel and Stratified approaches (MASTERPLANS) project aims to improve upon the current ‘trial and error’ approach to treating the disease.

Previous studies have demonstrated that only 40 to 50% of patients with lupus react well to treatment, a problem that the project intends to address. Complications related to lupus can include chronic fatigue, cataracts, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. The disease is caused by an inexplicable attack from the immune system to healthy cells, organs and tissues, provoking an inflammation that can develop into rashes, hair loss, arthritis, kidney involvement and blood disorders.

“We will be studying a whole range of factors which can influence the success or failure of treatment,” explained Ian Bruce, the professor from The University of Manchester’s Institute of Inflammation and Repair and Director of the NIHR Manchester Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit. “By examining the genetic profile, immune response and clinical data of groups of patients we aim to identify key factors that predict more accurately the right treatment to offer to individual patients.”

The researchers believe that improving the accuracy of treatments is the first step in reducing the time to manage lupus and prevent long-term complications, as stated in a press release. The four-year project, which is being supported by a $6.3 million grant from the Medical Research Council, involves a series of studies classified as stratified medicine, which will include research involving several lupus patients divided into small groups in order to assess personalized treatments, focused on both genetic and biological characteristics.

“The goal of stratified medicine is to provide patients with the best treatments by ensuring that existing medicines are targeted at those who will derive most benefit but also by accelerating the development of new therapies,” stated the chief executive of MRC, professor John Savill. “Achieving this goal requires partnerships that harness the diverse mix of knowledge, expertise and commitment of academia, industry and patients.”

“From my own clinical experience of treating SLE patients, it is clear that SLE is a condition ripe for a stratified medicines approach. A number of new treatments are coming through for SLE and we desperately need better ways to target treatments to the patients most likely to benefit from them,” added Bruce. “Our consortium brings together a number of leading UK universities with pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies. The combined strength of our research expertise will help us to quickly translate results into clinical practice for the benefit of SLE patients, not only in the UK, but also in other parts of the world.”

In addition to The University of Manchester, the Universities of Bath, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham and Cambridge, the King’s College London, Imperial College London, University College London and the Medical Research Council Biostatistics Unit will also participate in the project. From the enterprise side, the participants include Aeirtec Limited, Aurinia (Vifor), The Binding Site, Epistem, GSK, Imagen Biotech, Medimmune, Myriad RBM, Roche/Genentech, UCB and Pfizer.

“Here in the UK, we’re ideally placed to be at the forefront of this field because we can combine excellence in research with access to some of the highest quality clinical resources and data in the world,” believes Savill. “This is attracting small, medium and large companies from across the UK and internationally to partner with us. The consortia we are supporting are keen to work with new partners and we shall be considering further disease areas that might benefit from this approach.”