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05 June 2014

Bristol hospital key partner for new national childhood arthritis research centre

Bristol Royal Hospital for Children will be a significant regional partner for the new Arthritis Research UK National Experimental Arthritis Treatment Centre for Children in Liverpool.

The centre, based at Alder Hey Children's NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Liverpool, is dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of children with arthritis and related rheumatic conditions by testing better and more effective drug treatments.

Researchers at Bristol will focus on uveitis associated with arthritis, testing new treatments specifically targeted at children with these conditions and seeking to bring "first in childhood disease" therapies effective in adults but not yet tested on children.  Children will be recruited for trials from Bristol and across the south west region.

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.

Dr Athimalaipet Ramanan, consultant paediatric rheumatologist at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and associate director for Industry and JIA-uveitis said: "Uveitis-associated with arthritis leads to significant visual impairment in children. This award will help further the ongoing research in Bristol and also help develop new therapies to better understand and treat children with sight-threatening uveitis. The award will lead to children in UK being amongst the first in the world to benefit from new drugs that are discovered for the treatment of arthritis." Dr Ramanan is already running a major trial into better treatment of uveitis in children with JIA, funded partly by Arthritis Research UK.

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.

"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.

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.

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK said: "We recognise the importance of making sure that children with arthritis benefit from the enormous improvements in treatment that have emerged in the past decade since our discovery of anti-TNF therapy for adults with inflammatory arthritis.

"It's for this reason that we have established the first centre in the UK devoted to the study of the effects of new drugs for childhood arthritis. We are excited that the work of Professor Beresford and his colleagues nationally will make a considerable impact on changing the face of treatment for children with this longstanding disabling disorder."

The new national centre has been awarded funding of over £1.4 million over five years from a number of sources, including £225,000 in the first place from Arthritis Research UK and a consortium of funding partners in Liverpool.