A national initiative that will improve patient-centred arthritis research was launched today (Thursday 24 October) in Dublin.

The Arthritis Research Coalition (ARC) biobank will make a significant difference to health research by collecting blood and tissue samples donated by patients. The biosamples will help researchers gain a better understanding of the causes and treatment of rheumatic conditions.

The initial focus of the biobank is on rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and paediatric arthritis conditions, such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis and Down’s arthritis. In time, this will expand to include gout, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and connective tissues diseases.

A further objective of the coalition is to increase national involvement in clinical trials of novel therapeutic agents.

Approximately one million people are living with arthritis in Ireland, including 1,200 children. Of the autoimmune forms of the disease, rheumatoid arthritis affects 45,000 people, while up to one in 40 people are affected by gout.

According to Prof. Gerry Wilson, Chair of the ARC steering committee: “The Arthritis Research Coalition is a national initiative to ensure that patient-centred research results in improved outcomes for children and adults with arthritis. The collection of blood samples will allow us to study ways of identifying the development of arthritis at an earlier stage, hopefully preventing joint damage and disability for many types of arthritis.”

Gráinne O’Leary, Chief Executive of Arthritis Ireland said: “Research is increasing the knowledge base about arthritis. That knowledge has the potential to transform the lives of people living with the disease, through delivery of better care for patients, as well as gaining earlier access to innovative treatments through clinical trials, than would otherwise be possible. The launch of the Arthritis Research Coalition is a milestone in health research in this country.”

Peter Boyd (36) was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2011. Speaking at the launch, he said: “This is an important opportunity for people living with arthritis to contribute to the development of patient-centred care and personalised medicine. Ground-breaking research has led to the development of innovative new drugs and treatments for patients with arthritis over the past 20 to 30 years. If those of us with arthritis are to live better lives today and to enjoy a future free from the disease, then we need to play our part.”

Consultants and researchers pictured at the launch of the Arthritis Research Coalition

Pictured at the launch of the Arthritis Research Coalition were (l-r): Prof Gerry Wilson, Dr Orla Killeen, Prof Doug Veale, Lorna Freeman, Prof Ursula Feeran, Dr Laura Tobin, Dr Sandy Fraser, Grainne O'Leary, Dr Emma Dorris, Peter Boyd

A 2013 report ranked Ireland first of the 35 richest countries in terms of rheumatology research excellence. Other major research outputs have included molecular studies on the pathogenesis of common rheumatic diseases, the discovery and validation of prognostic biomarkers, and clinical studies on novel therapies.

Despite these successes, the research activity has been reliant on a fragmented and poorly funded infrastructure.

The establishment of the Arthritis Research Coalition, as well as the creation of two Arthritis Ireland professorial chairs in rheumatology, the award of a EULAR Centre of Excellence, and the development of a research nurse network will address previous challenges and ensure that Ireland remains at the forefront of the global research effort in rheumatic disease.

Patients looking to participate in the biobank are advised to speak with their rheumatologist.

The Arthritis Research Coalition is supported by Arthritis Ireland, the Health Research Board Clinical Research Coordination Ireland (HRB CRCI), AbbVie, Novartis, Pfizer and UCB.