National childhood arthritis research centre launches in Liverpool

Dr Hannah Levis, Reader in Ophthalmic Bioengineering, Eye & Vision Sciences

kidsfeet-1wChildren with arthritis have been slow to benefit fully from rapid advances in new treatments, says Professor Michael Beresford

A new national research centre dedicated to testing better and more effective drug treatments for children with arthritis has been unveiled in Liverpool.

The Arthritis Research UK National Experimental Arthritis Treatment Centre for Children based at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Liverpool aims to improve the health and wellbeing of children with arthritis and related rheumatic conditions.

The research team will test new treatments specifically targeted at children with these conditions and seek to bring ‘first in childhood disease’ therapies effective in adults but not yet tested on children.

National centre

The new national centre has been awarded funding of over £1.25 million over five years from a number of sources, including medical research charity Arthritis Research UK, the Alder Hey Children’s Charity, the Alder Hey Research Business Unit, and the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Translational Medicine, as well as the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Children’s Hospital, along with Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, which are partner organisations in the Centre.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is a type of inflammatory arthritis, which affects around 12,000 children and teenagers under the age of 17 in the UK, causing severe joint pain and stiffness, and in some cases affecting the internal organs.

Although modern medicines such as biological therapies usually developed initially for adult inflammatory arthritis can also be effective in children, only a handful have been licensed and approved for children and young people.

”We have the internationally competitive expertise within the new centre to ensure that in future children will be among the first to receive new medicines that are safe and effective and will improve their health, wellbeing and quality of life throughout their lives”
The Centre has internationally recognised expertise in this research field including clinical pharmacology, drug safety science, personalised medicine, biostatistics and trials methodology and translational biosciences to support the development of better, safer medicines for children with arthritis and bone disease. It has very strong collaborative links with its partner centres in Bristol, who will lead on studies of uveitis and Sheffield, who lead the bone health theme.

The new centre will work closely with the pharmaceutical industry and a national network of world-leading research institutions to speed up the development of new treatments for children with arthritis, by running small clinical trials of promising drugs currently in the pipeline that would otherwise take years to come onto the market. They will also collaborate closely with experts in adult arthritis in Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Oxford, as well as with the NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre.

Director of the new Centre, Professor Michael Beresford, said: “Children and young people with arthritis and related conditions have been slow to benefit fully from the rapid advances in new treatments that have appeared over the past 10 years. We have the internationally competitive expertise within the new centre to ensure that in future children will be among the first to receive new medicines that are safe and effective and will improve their health, wellbeing and quality of life throughout their lives.

Priority areas

“We also want to use our understanding of disease and work on what is causing disease and the mechanisms behind it to identify new drug targets, and to look at drug safety.”

Working with the UK’s Paediatric Rheumatology Clinical Studies Group, which Professor Beresford chairs, the centre has identified four priority disease areas: JIA, childhood lupus, JIA–associated uveitis (a potentially serious eye condition that can lead to blindness if untreated) and childhood bone diseases.

Professor Ian Greer, Provost and Executive Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences of the University of Liverpool stated: “Arthritis is often seen as a disease affecting adults, but 12,000 children in the UK also suffer from a form of this distressing condition. The University of Liverpool already has significant expertise in developing treatments for children and the new Centre will allow us to begin to address the challenges faced by young people with JIA and their families.”

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