The Lupus Foundation of America has named Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist Joan Merrill, M.D., as a recipient of its Evelyn V. Hess Award.
The award recognizes Merrill’s exceptional contributions to the field in her nearly 30 years as a lupus physician and researcher.
A graduate of Cornell University Medical College, Merrill joined OMRF from the faculty of Columbia University in 2001 to establish a clinical trial laboratory to better understand lupus and work on ways to test drugs for lupus successfully.
Since then, she has built a research cohort of more than 650 lupus patient volunteers that helps researchers worldwide, led numerous clinical trials for investigational lupus treatments, and pioneered novel trial designs for testing innovative therapies for lupus and other autoimmune illnesses.
“Dr. Merrill has an unwavering commitment to improving approaches to lupus research and clinical trials,” said LFA President and CEO Stevan W. Gibson. “Recognizing her dedication to lupus research and the lupus community with the Lupus Foundation of America’s prestigious 2020 Evelyn V. Hess Award underscores how her achievements have and will continue to impact the future of lupus science and the discovery of safer and more effective treatments.”
Lupus occurs when the immune system becomes unbalanced and can affect the skin, kidneys, lungs, joints and cardiovascular system. The disease primarily strikes women and disproportionately affects African Americans, American Indians and Latinos.
Merrill’s current research at OMRF focuses on the impact of current lupus therapies on the immune system and vaccine response and effectiveness in lupus patients, as well as on how to better design and implement lupus clinical trials to allow development and approval of new lupus treatments. She also serves as LFA’s chief advisor for clinical development.
“Dr. Merrill is a consummate leader in clinical lupus research,” said OMRF Vice President of Clinical Affairs Judith James, M.D., Ph.D. “An impassioned patient advocate, she is committed to improving clinical trial designs for lupus patients, helping more medications obtain approvals and increasing our armamentarium to fight this challenging disease.”
In her career at OMRF, Merrill has helped structure communitywide efforts to increase lupus trial availability and awareness for minority patients, as well as restructuring trial design for increased collaboration and communication between volunteer patients and clinicians.
“Lupus frequently impacts people of color and those in underserved medical populations who deserve far more attention than they get,” said Merrill. “It’s an incredibly meaningful medical frontier to be a part of, and as we learn more about lupus, we learn more about the mysteries of the immune system, which will help us discover safer and more effective treatments.”
LFA’s mission is to improve the quality of life for all people affected by lupus through programs of research, education, support and advocacy. Its Hess Award was established in 2006 to honor a lupus researcher whose body of work has significantly advanced the science or medicine of lupus.