We are proud to announce the ACR Research and Education Foundation (REF) recently achieved a major accomplishment: we surpassed the initial $30-million fundraising goal of the Within Our Reach: Finding a Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis campaign! To date, commitments to the campaign total $30,719,054 from 245 donors.
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Explore This IssueJune 2011
At the time Within Our Reach was conceived, the growth in National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding had reached a leveling-off point after a decade that saw unprecedented doubling of their extramural budget. Recognizing this trend, the ACR Committee on Research, chaired by Jane Salmon, MD, brought its concerns to the ACR Board of Directors. The discussions that followed led to a joint meeting between the leadership of the ACR and REF, resulting in the creation of a task force to address this issue.
Among its recommendations, the task force called for the REF to explore a disease-targeted research initiative in RA. The REF then convened a scientific forum at the 2005 Annual Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies Meeting in Boston to mobilize efforts and identify the key topic areas that might have the most impact on research in this disease area. Shortly thereafter, the REF engaged a consultant, Community Counselling Service (CCS), to conduct a feasibility study to test the case for such a research initiative and determine a goal level for fundraising. V. Michael Holers, MD, chair of the REF Scientific Advisory Council at the time, led the efforts to design a grants portfolio that could support innovative research in RA. Thus, we began our journey to raise $30 million for the Within Our Reach: Finding a Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis campaign—a bold step for our professional organization—and the stage was set for new funding opportunities that would bring the best and brightest to the field of RA research.
The campaign was launched in 2006 under the direction of current REF senior director of development Paula Reed, formerly of CCS, with a plan to focus on the solicitation of major gifts from a variety of constituents, including the ACR and our partners from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, and research-minded individuals, primarily patients under the care of rheumatologists and the families of these patients. Raising money for research from individuals impacted by RA was an utterly new endeavor for the REF. To effectively walk this path, the REF had to develop a new volunteer structure to expand its capabilities in building a new area of support. Many volunteers who shared our vision were recruited to the Within Our Reach campaign. This new volunteer structure consisted of a core group of community-based rheumatologists appointed as ambassadors and diplomats. There was also leadership from a cadre of influential members of the ACR, including Stanley Cohen, MD, Leslie Crofford, MD, Stuart Kassan, MD, Jeff Lawson, MD, James O’Dell, MD, Stephen Paget, MD, Michael Weinblatt, MD, and Kathy Upchurch, MD. We cannot thank them enough for their contributions to this effort.
Today, due to the dedication of many volunteers along the way, we have reached our fundraising goal of $30 million and awarded 58 grants, totaling $24.4 million, in support of RA research.
Today, due to the dedication of many volunteers along the way, we have reached our fundraising goal of $30 million and awarded 58 grants, totaling $24.4 million, in support of RA research. The awarding of grants through this program will extend into 2012, with an additional $6 million of support in the form of novel clinical trials to be funded next fall. By many measures, the campaign has been a huge success for our organization. Here are some of the research highlights:
- 25 investigators have completed Within Our Reach projects.
- 24 Within Our Reach investigators have been awarded an additional $59 million total in related NIH grants.
- NIH funding for arthritis research has increased by $87 million (this includes American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds).
- More than 140 articles from Within Our Reach–funded projects have been published in peer-reviewed journals.
- More than 300 presentations by Within Our Reach investigators have been given at scientific meetings worldwide.
While these numbers are impressive, they only tell part of the story about the success of the campaign.
Building a Collaborative Community
The annual meetings of the Within Our Reach investigators have proven to be another major accomplishment. The excitement is palpable at these meetings, as the investigators present their research findings and engage in lively exchanges. Within Our Reach has brought new investigators into this area of research from both inside and outside of rheumatology, a goal of the program from the outset that expands the critical mass of scientists focused on advancing knowledge in RA. New collaborations have been formed among the group that have resulted in new research endeavors and successful grant applications.
The Investigators’ Meeting in June 2010 brought together more than 50 investigators from across the U.S. to present data and results from their innovative RA research projects and to find creative ways to work more closely together (see “An Eye on RA Innovations,” in the August 2010 issue, p. 1, for a recap). During this meeting, progress from more than 30 RA studies was presented. Investigators openly shared their research in clinical practice, discussed the link between RA and cardiovascular disease, examined the basis for bone and tissue involvement, and provided evidence for genetic links to the disease.
Sharing early research information and seeking collaborations is not something often seen in the world of highly competitive medical research. The Within Our Reach campaign has shown that investigators can be open to collaboration when they are working together for a common cause with a clear goal: finding a cure for RA.
The topic areas covered by Within Our Reach span the basic, translational, and clinical realms of research. The applications for this program are evaluated by a study section comprising volunteers with the requisite scientific expertise to prioritize the proposals. Their efforts have created an impressive slate of worthy projects.
For example, Antony Rosen, MD, professor and director of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, was among the first group of scientists supported during Within Our Reach, receiving funding for a project to investigate anti-PADI4 immune responses in RA as a marker of disease propagation. Ultimately, this work, which was published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, showed that anti-PADI4 antibodies are specific markers of RA and independently associated with more severe disease.1
From the second round of funding, Robert Plenge, MD, director of genetics and genomics in the division of rheumatology, immunology, and allergy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, received a Within Our Reach grant to search for genetic predictors of clinical responses to anti–tumor necrosis factor (TNF) therapy. This research was also published in Arthritis & Rheumatism and described a risk allele associated with a clinical response to anti-TNF drugs, a class of biologic modifier that has become a mainstay of treatment for RA.2 In addition, Dr. Plenge was able to leverage funding from his Within Our Reach project to obtain additional funding to form an international collaboration to study the genetic basis of response to anti-TNF therapy.
In the third cycle, Kevin Deane, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at the University of Colorado in Denver, received a grant to study the lung as an initial site of immune dysregulation in RA. Other grants related to this topic were awarded in the fourth cycle to Dana P. Ascherman, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and Sonye Danoff, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who are looking at biomarkers of RA associated with lung disease. The support of these studies not only reflects their high marks for the quality of the science and innovation, but also the recent interest in the lung as a key player in the pathogenesis of RA.
Finally, periodontal disease and its possible role as a trigger of RA is the focus of two Within Our Reach–supported studies under the direction of Clifton Bingham III, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center and associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and Ted Mikuls, MD, MSPH, associate professor of internal medicine and rheumatology at The University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. These are but a few examples of the groundbreaking research being carried out under the auspices of the Within Our Reach program.
Completion of the Within Our Reach campaign has been a major accomplishment for the ACR, the REF, and the rheumatology community. This campaign has reinvigorated the RA research enterprise by accelerating the pace of discovery and catalyzing promising new lines of scientific investigation. Most importantly, these achievements provide hope and inspiration to the millions of patients with RA who need our support and care.
We are proud to have surpassed our original funding goal. However, as long as there remains a need for RA research, we will not stop leading the way; as we end one chapter, we begin another. While we are celebrating the success of Within Our Reach, we are continuing to look for ways to build on the momentum and to foster great science and collaboration in the research community. As always, we welcome your feedback as we take the next step towards these important goals.
To all our volunteers and supporters: THANK YOU for your vision, dedication, support, and leadership. Without you, we would not be where we are today.
Dr. Borenstein is clinical professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at George Washington University Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., and in private practice at Arthritis and Rheumatism Associates there. Contact him via e-mail at Borenstein@rheumatology.org. Dr. St.Clair is president of the ACR REF and interim chief of the division of rheumatology and immunology at Duke University in Durham, N.C. Contact him at email@example.com.
- Harris ML, Darrah E, Lam GK, et al. Association of autoimmunity to peptidyl arginine deiminase type 4 with genotype and disease severity in rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2008;58:1958-1967.
- Cui J, Saevarsdottir S, Thomson B, et al. Rheumatoid arthritis risk allele PTPRC is also associated with response to anti-tumor necrosis factor alpha therapy. Arthritis Rheum. 2010;62:1849-1861.