NEW YORK—Having the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) speak to a room full of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) experts about autoimmune disease is preaching to the choir. Having the director of the NIH care enough about autoimmune diseases that he talks about them to other groups, too? Well, that’s conducting a national choir.
You Might Also Like
Also By This Author
“Having an advocate at that [national] level for lupus is invaluable,” says Lupus Research Institute (LRI) President Margaret “Peggy” Dowd. “We know that if we want to move biomedical research in this country, we have to be active. We have to be advocates. We have to have our folks on [Capitol] Hill, which we do every year. And we have to speak with a louder voice.”
It doesn’t get much louder than when NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, spoke Oct. 19 at Forum for Discovery: The 15th Annual Scientific Conference in Midtown Manhattan.
Dr. Collins, known to most for leading the international Human Genome Project, has likely gained popularity in lupus circles for including SLE in a partnership between the NIH, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 10 biopharmaceutical companies and multiple nonprofit organizations. The program’s goal is to develop “new diagnostics and treatments by jointly identifying and validating promising biological targets for therapeutics,” according to the NIH.
“United we stand, divided we fall,” Dr. Collins said at the event. “I want to stand here this evening and say, NIH wants to be part of that ‘united-we-stand’ circumstance.”
According to Dr. Collins, progress in biomedical research is on a precipice that has never been seen before, thanks to scientific and technology breakthroughs in recent years. But, dichotomously, the resources to push progress forward—“moving faster,” he likes to say—are anemic.
“We are riding an exponential curve of knowledge acquisition right now,” he added. “The paradox of my experience every day is having the sense that science has never been at a more exciting juncture than right now. And yet, at the same time, biomedical research—in the U.S. anyway—has never been in a more stressful circumstance because your chance, if you send a grant to us, of actually getting [your research] funded is the lowest in history.”
As a new way to fund biomedical research for SLE and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Dr. Collins and his NIH staff teamed with the biggest pharmaceutical developers and nonprofit organizations, such as LRI and the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR), which are merging, to create the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP). The two autoimmune diseases were in the first cohort targeted by the AMP, along with Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. The funding available for SLE and RA research is $41.6 million, split between NIH and six pharmaceutical companies: Sanofi, AbbVie, Pfizer, Merck, Takeda and Bristol-Myers Squibb.