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Manchester to lead project for better lupus treatment

The University of Manchester is to lead 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 percent 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 involvement 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 today 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% of patients will respond well to any particular treatment.

Professor Ian Bruce from The University of Manchester's Institute of Inflammation and Repair and Director of the NIHR Manchester Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit said: "We will be studying a whole range of factors which can influence the success or failure of treatment.  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."

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.

As well as The University of Manchester, the consortium also includes the Universities of Bath, 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. Professor Sir John Savill, the MRC's chief executive, said: "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. Achieving this goal requires partnerships that harness the diverse mix of knowledge, expertise and commitment of academia, industry and patients.

"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. 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."

Professor Bruce who is also Honorary Consultant Rheumatologist at Manchester Royal Infirmary, said: "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.

"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."