For 30 years, the Rheumatology Research Foundation has been funding research and advancing treatments. During that time, Leonard L. Dragone, MD, PhD, received a Foundation award to help look for new strategies to treat autoimmune and inflammatory diseases in mouse models. Then, he was working as an assistant professor of pediatrics and immunology at the University of Colorado. Now, he works at Genentech, helping bring new and better drugs to patients with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. An excerpt of an interview the Foundation conducted with Dr. Dragone as part of the organization’s 30th anniversary celebration is on the next page. He reflects on how he has been affected by the Foundation’s support and how the organization has impacted the field of rheumatology.
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Q: How did you first hear about the Foundation’s grant opportunities?
A: I first heard about the Foundation’s funding source for new investigators at the ACR’s meetings. At the time, there was an emphasis on rheumatoid arthritis, and I was working with rheumatoid arthritis in animal models then.
Q: What did receiving a grant mean to you and your career?
A: Receiving a grant from the Foundation was transformative. It was an incredible opportunity for me to take an idea with preliminary data and build it into a story that was competitive to the NIH and other granting agencies. In addition to providing funding, the Foundation brings people together. Alliances, friendships and collaborations are born out of the Foundation’s Investigators’ Meetings. The meetings bring together people who are like minded in certain ways and also have unique and distinct strengths. Some of the work I did was not only supported by the funding, but also supported by the relationships I was able to create through the Foundation.
Q: What is the greatest impact you’ve seen the Foundation make in the past 30 years?
A: The Foundation has allowed young scientists, as well as scientists in other fields, to go into autoimmune and inflammatory diseases and utilize their skills to ask new questions that will help advance the understanding of these diseases, as well as treatment options for patients. This is something that the Foundation has pioneered for the field.
Q: What do you hope to see the Foundation achieve over the next 30 years?
A: I’d like to see continued growth of the Foundation’s current work of supporting investigator-initiated awards because they are such a catalyst. I would also like to see them branch further out into other areas that they are already beginning to work in. For example, doing more work on outcome-based research and personalized medicine approaches. This can give us a better understanding of patients’ responses to therapies and why the drugs help them and why they don’t help them in order for us to engineer newer and better strategies.
Q: How does the Foundation contribute to a strong and capable workforce?
A: The Foundation contributes in many ways by allowing people to realize their training and develop scholarly work in the field of pediatric and adult rheumatology. They help these scientists refine their thinking and become critical thinkers in the process through investigator awards, fellowship awards, etc. The Foundation is helping to grow the future of rheumatology by supporting different levels of staff (trainees, junior staff and senior staff) through their career development. They foster growth through the system during the training period and beyond, which is the vision of the Foundation.
Q: What do you wish people knew about the Foundation?
A: I think people should know that their donations go directly to help scientists and physician scientists try to understand the biology of these diseases. Their money is going to good use developing new insights and treatments. The Foundation is incredibly well run by leaders who have a great vision of what they want to accomplish. They are focused and, at the same time, inclusive of new ideas, which is the success of the Foundation.
Q: Why is it important for ACR/ARHP members to support the Foundation?
A: The research that is supported by the Foundation is what is going to allow us to find better and more refined therapies for our patients.