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A recent workshop at Pembroke College, Oxford, provided a showcase for research within the Arthritis Therapy Acceleration Programme (A-TAP) aimed at speeding up the delivery of new drugs for immune-mediated inflammatory disease (IMIDs).

Showcasing a new approach to arthritis research

The workshop was organised by the Kennedy Institute’s Director of Clinical Research and A-TAP lead, Prof Chris Buckley, to raise awareness of A-TAP and the funding opportunities it provides to support experimental medicine studies.

In opening remarks, Chris highlighted the importance of experimental medicine to overcome barriers in drug discovery. He explains, “Developments in our understanding of the genetic and cellular basis of disease have revealed that diseases traditionally classified as anatomically distinct share much more in common that previously recognized. Coupled with advances in biologic and cellular therapy and innovations in clinical trial design, it is now possible to run trials that have pathology-based outcome measures with one drug being studies across a ‘basket’ of different IMIDs”.

A-TAP was launched by the Universities of Oxford and Birmingham in 2017 to apply this new approach to trial design for development of novel treatments based on the underlying causes of inflammatory disease. The programme is supported by a £7M award from the Kennedy Trust for Rheumatology Research.

One way in which A-TAP facilitates clinical studies is to improve access to patients and diseased tissue samples. During the workshop, Dr Andrew Filer, an A-TAP investigator at the University of Birmingham, described his work on the Birmingham Early Arthritis Cohort (BEACON) to biopsy joint tissues when patients first show signs of inflammation in their joints. This approach is enabling research across the A-TAP network into early predictors and drivers of arthritis.

Robust and accurate tools to measure biological markers in tissues are also crucial to understand disease processes and how they are affected by drugs. Led by Dr Clare Verrill, University of Oxford, workshop participants also learned about the application of artificial intelligence approaches to measure pathology based markers across tissue samples from different types of inflammatory disease.

The workshop also gave a flavour of two new clinical studies enabled by A-TAP. These are exploring the effect of anti TNF therapy on tissue based markers in Rheumatoid Arthritis and Inflammatory bowel disease as well as the effect of three different biological therapies on cell populations in patients with ankylosing spondylitis

For more information about A-TAP and funding opportunities for Oxford and Birmingham based projects in the area of inflammatory arthritis, please contact A-TAP Operations Manager, Dr Claire Potter.