OMRF has been selected by the National Institutes of Health as one of the country’s nine Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence. As a result, OMRF will share in $57 million in grants aimed at producing new treatments for autoimmune disease.
OMRF joins Yale University, Stanford University, Duke University and five other institutions that will pursue projects where lab scientists will work closely with clinical researchers to develop treatments for conditions like lupus and multiple sclerosis. Over the five-year grant period, OMRF will receive at least $4.5 million to fund its work, with the possibility of additional funding for clinical trials.
Led by principal investigator Judith James, M.D. Ph.D., a team of OMRF scientists and physicians will use the funds to expand their efforts to develop a better understanding of and treatments for autoimmune diseases, conditions in which the body turns the weapons of its immune system against itself. Those illnesses, which include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes and nearly 80 other conditions, affect 5 to 8 percent of the U.S. population and are responsible for tens of billions of dollars in annual medical bills.
“There’s a profound need for new treatments for autoimmune diseases,” said James, who holds the Lou C. Kerr Endowed Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF. “For example, it has been 50 years since the Food and Drug Administration approved a drug specifically to treat lupus. By integrating clinical trials and other patient-oriented research, we hope to accelerate the process of delivering new therapies to the patients who need them most.”
James and Joan Merrill, M.D., will lead projects that will study lupus, which is estimated to affect up to 1.5 million Americans and can be fatal. The disease can strike any part of the body—it most commonly attacks the joints, skin and kidneys—and has no known cure. OMRF’s Kathy Moser, Ph.D., will focus on Sjögren’s syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s white blood cells attack the moisture-producing glands.
OMRF’s Darise Farris, Ph.D., will partner with James George, M.D., and Dee Terrell, Ph.D., at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center to study the events that trigger thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a rare autoimmune blood disease. Other Oklahoma clinical investigators at OUHSC and Mercy Hospital are also poised to participate in federally sponsored clinical trials in a variety of autoimmune diseases: type I diabetes, pediatric lupus, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
“The purpose of the Autoimmunity Center of Excellence program is to get investigators working together across fields and diseases,” James said. “What we learn through these projects can cast light on a number of serious illnesses that affect millions of Americans.”
Part of the focus will be on clinical trials for orphan diseases—those deemed to affect too few people for drug companies to research—and on testing new uses for drugs whose patents are soon to run out.
Other institutions chosen as Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence are the University of California, San Francisco, the University of Rochester Medical Center, Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Baylor University and the University of Chicago.
“OMRF researchers have consistently been at the forefront of research on autoimmune diseases,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “This award not only recognizes our scientists’ contributions to the field—it also lays the groundwork for the next generation of breakthroughs.”