Bath to be part of £5.1m research consortium to treat lupus

Our University is to be part of a new £5.1 million consortium of universities and industry partners in a project aimed at eliminating the ‘trial and error’ approach to the treatment of lupus.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (also known as SLE or lupus) is a condition which affects around 16,000 people in the UK – 90 per cent of these are women and it is particularly common amongst people of African, Indo-Asian and Chinese origin.

For reasons that are poorly understood, in sufferers, the immune system attacks healthy cells, organs and tissues causing severe inflammation. This inflammation can cause a range of problems including rashes, hair loss, arthritis, kidney and blood disorders.

Long-term complications in SLE can include chronic fatigue, cataracts, early onset heart attacks and strokes, as well as kidney failure.

The new project, launched by George Freeman MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Life Sciences, is called MAximizing Sle ThERapeutic PotentiaL by Application of Novel and Stratified approaches (MASTERPLANS). It will seek to improve on the current ‘trial and error’ approach to treatment as many studies show that only 40-50 per cent of patients will respond well to any particular treatment.

Bath’s Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases is a specialist centre for lupus and will be contributing patients to the study. A research team led by Professor Neil McHugh in the University’s Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology will be measuring immune markers in the patients to help tailor the optimal treatment for each individual.

By getting the right treatments to patients first time the new approach will reduce the time needed to get SLE under control and also reduce long-term complications which are often related to poor control of disease as well as the long-term use of steroids in this population. Such an approach will also be a better use of healthcare resources.

The new project is a field of study known as stratified medicine, involving the study of large numbers of patients to identify smaller groups for more personalised treatment based on their particular genetic and biological characteristics. The team envisages that this approach will increase the success rate of treatments for individual patients.

Professor McHugh commented: “At present we can’t predict which patients will respond to what treatment– it’s a bit of a lottery - so patients may be exposed to a potentially toxic treatment that ends up not working.

“We want to profile the patients more accurately so we can choose the most appropriate treatment that has the highest chance of working for that individual – in other words, personalised medicine.

“We’re excited to be part of a leading UK centre for research and management of lupus that offers a real chance of advancing the knowledge and management of a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition.”

The consortium is led by The University of Manchester, and also includes the Universities of Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham and Cambridge, alongside King’s College London, Imperial College London, University College London and the Medical Research Council Biostatistics Unit.

These institutions will work alongside industry partners including Aeirtec Limited, Aurinia (Vifor), The Binding Site, Epistem, GSK, Imagen Biotech, Medimmune, Myriad RBM, Roche/Genentech, UCB and Pfizer.

The project will last four years and is majority funded by a £4.2m grant from the Medical Research Council.

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