The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded 11 grants to various private and public research groups across the United States to advance research on rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and lupus drugs. This alliance, called the Accelerating Medicines Partnership in Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus (AMP RA/Lupus) Network, was awarded $6 million in funding this past September.

The AMP RA/Lupus initiative was launched in February with specific goals in mind — the main one being to identify and test the most promising biologic agents for RA and lupus treatment. With the new government funding, researchers will be able to make strides toward these disease-specific, targeted treatment goals.

RA and lupus are similar conditions, and since both cause joint pain and swelling, doctors sometimes confuse them. In this case, the disease similarities should help researchers study both conditions at the same time.

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Who Will Take Part in the Research Network?

The NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) funded the grants. AMP members were drawn from pharmaceutical companies and health nonprofits, including AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, Pfizer, Sanofi, Takeda, the Arthritis Foundation, the Lupus Foundation of America, the Lupus Research Institute/Alliance for Lupus Research, and the Rheumatology Research Foundation.

Carefully selected research and leadership sites within the AMP network will receive the funds in order to conduct crucial research on new drug candidates. The hope is that the research will not only further the understanding of RA and lupus, but that it may also broaden our knowledge of autoimmune diseases in general.

“This program promises to lead to more diagnosis and treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. We also anticipate that the flexibility of the program will enable investigators to advance research on related diseases, thus improving our overall understanding of autoimmunity,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID, said in a .

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How Will This Program Change the Face of Rheumatology?

“To date, treatments for RA and lupus have been aimed at decreasing inflammation and pain. For the first time, we are bringing together multidisciplinary research teams to achieve a broad, systems-level understanding of these diseases, setting the stage for the development of more effective diagnostic and treatment approaches,” said Dr. Stephen Katz, director of NIAMS, in the official for the initiative.

During the five-year program, researchers will explore the biological pathways and cellular behaviors of both rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. They will compile data from various genome-wide analyses in order to better understand the tissue behavior and resulting tissue damage that is the hallmark of RA and lupus. The data will be made available to the entire network and to the whole rheumatology community.

This unprecedented partnership could advance rheumatology research, diagnosis, and disease-management by leaps and bounds. Steve Echard, former executive director of the Rheumatology Research Foundation, put it simply: “This alliance furthers the mission to advance research and training that can improve the health of people with rheumatic diseases.”

Patients and their caregivers certainly hope so. “I look forward to the day when I no longer have to see my mother suffer,” said Jane Beuhl of Monaca, Pennsylvania, whose mom lives with both RA and lupus. “A world free of arthritis and rheumatic disease is a world I want to see.”

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