November 2018 research newsletter


Welcome to the November edition of our research newsletter – our first as Versus Arthritis.

In September, we launched our new charity which builds on the best of Arthritis Research UK and Arthritis Care. We’ve come together so that we can do more for the 17.8 million people living with arthritis and associated MSK conditions.

As Versus Arthritis, funding world class research will continue to be vital in our push to defy arthritis, and we'll continue to celebrate research as an integral part of this - by bringing the story of the impact of our work to life, profiling our scientists and giving people with arthritis hope that things can be different.

In this edition, we are delighted to announce the launch of our third pain challenge, which opens for applications today. We are committed to supporting the future leaders of musculoskeletal research, and this time our challenge includes dedicated funding to support researchers at the start of their careers. You can find out how we shaped this call using your feedback below.

In addition, our Priorities in clinical research funding round is now open for clinical study applications seeking to address priority areas drawn from existing priority setting exercises.

Behind the scenes we’ve been busy putting new systems in place. This week we are pleased to launch our new fellowship and career support webpages, which highlight our offer for careers in musculoskeletal research. Earlier this month we upgraded our grants administration system, Grant Tracker. The new system will allow us to maintain and improve the efficiency of application and award management, as well as vastly improving the user interface.

Those of you who are active on social media may be aware that we have recently launched our first national campaign as Versus Arthritis, which aims to drive greater recognition of arthritis and create an environment where people with arthritis can live better – free from pain, fatigue and isolation. You may have seen our adverts on TV, in the national press or on social media. We’d love for you to show your support for our campaign by declaring yourself #VersusArthritis.

Finally, you might like to know that information from past research newsletters> can now be found on our website. To make sure that you never miss out, you can also email us to receive future newsletters and other important updates from the research team straight to your inbox.

We hope that you enjoy this edition of our research newsletter, and we welcome any feedback or comments.

Launching our Pain challenge 2019

Understanding, treating and managing pain is among the greatest challenges facing society today. Chronic pain is life changing for people with arthritis and other musculoskeletal diseases. Without action this will not improve. UK pain research is world-leading, but severely underfunded.

We identified priority areas that desperately need research in our Research Roadmap for Pain and these have created the scope of the call for our latest Pain challenge call.

We want to fund research which:

  • helps to break down the complexity of musculoskeletal pain
  • helps to understand ways to prevent chronic musculoskeletal pain
  • empowers people in chronic pain to manage their pain themselves through support from peers and healthcare professionals
  • shows the economic impacts of pain, and effects on working while sick (presenteeism), and understand the impact of musculoskeletal pain in the workplace.

We want ambitious and innovative investigator-driven research awards in discovery, clinical or applied health pain research, which should be collaborative, multidisciplinary and address pain holistically. Awards of up to £1 million for up to 60 months are available.

New opportunities for future leaders in pain research

We need to build the UK capacity to conduct pain research and encourage, support and nurture the next generation and future leaders of pain research, which we hope to achieve through early career elevator awards.

We will offer ring-fenced funding for up to 18 months, to support the salary and research expenses of future leaders in pain research. These awards will support new researchers and academics at the start of their careers to become independent researchers. Applicants must not have received a significant research award (>£100,000K) as principal investigator. This does not include personal fellowships.

Further details about the early career elevator awards will be released in early 2019 with award decisions at the same time as this Pain challenge 2019 call. Early career investigators may apply to this pain challenge call or wait for the ring-fenced early career investigator scheme, but concurrent applications to both schemes will not be accepted.

How you helped shape our new Pain challenge

A couple of years ago, we changed our funding from project and programme grant response mode to insight-driven challenge-led funding. The first challenge we wanted to try and tackle, and still are heavily focusing on, was pain. This decision to focus on pain was based on insight from people with arthritis, who told us that pain colours everything. We’ve now been through two pain challenge calls, awarding £7 million to pain research, and the next call for applications is now open.

How are we doing?

Before we launched the latest call, we wanted to evaluate how successful the last two calls had been, from the perspective of our committee members, and our applicants to the calls (both successful and not successful). We put together a short survey to review:

  • How clearly we communicated our ambition.
  • How confident the applicants were in the peer review process.
  • How well we communicated decisions.
  • How clear it was to our subcommittees what their task was in the call.

We sent this survey out to all subcommittee members, and applicants to both calls.

What did we find?

From the survey results we can see that although we made good progress from the 2016 call to the 2017 call with communicating the charity’s ambitions to subcommittee members, peer reviewers and applicants, future calls need even greater clarity. Despite this, we are encouraged to see the feedback on the progress we are making from when the challenge call was trialled in 2016, through to the second iteration in 2017.

In terms of communicating funding decisions and outcomes, while we’re clearly doing a good job with successful applicants, there is room for improvement in how we communicate decisions to the unsuccessful applicants.

So, what’s next?

We’ve now launched our latest Pain challenge call, and we have used the results of this survey to shape our call for applications. We have tried to make our requirements for applications clearer, such as the need for patient involvement and the ambition of the call.

We’ve also collected broader feedback from our researchers, outside of the survey, from both the cure workshop and the May subcommittee plenary, where we spent an afternoon discussing the pain challenge. In response to this feedback, we announced the latest pain challenge call earlier to give more time to think about applications. We have also considered the package of support and will be working on separate early career investigator schemes.

For future schemes, we will be reviewing the approach to the call further, including both timings, the way we feedback decisions, and peer review.

Thank you to everyone who provided their insight, and helped us shape our latest pain challenge call.

New innovation workshop with Cancer Research UK

We are delighted to announce our second innovation workshop in partnership with Cancer Research UK to address challenges in immunology which could lead to advances in our shared understanding of cancer and of arthritis/related musculoskeletal disorders.

The workshop will aim to promote cross-disciplinary synergies that accelerate progress in both areas. The second Innovation Workshop focusing on new research relevant to modulation of the immune state in MSK conditions and in cancer, will take place over three days from 3-5 April 2019, location: TBC, led by Professor Fiona Powrie.

The call for applications to join the workshop will launch shortly. For more information please contact Dr Liz Waterman on

Read about our first joint innovation workshop here (PDF, 588.10 KB).

Regulatory T cells: how can we gain therapeutic traction?

Our immune systems are carefully tuned to fight infection and tumours, but not attack our own bodies and how this careful balancing act is maintained remains a half finished puzzle. A big player is a specialised type of cell whose task it is to keep a check on its brethren - the so-called regulatory T cell or Treg. We are only just appreciating how hard these cells work to keep us all from exploding like inflammatory supernovae, and our hope is that when we do we will harness their power to prevent various kinds of diseases including autoimmune and inflammatory conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

On Monday 8 October 2018, we hosted a dedicated leaders forum to try and understand how Treg could be harnessed in the clinic and what it is about their unique biology we need to understand, learning from other conditions like type 1 diabetes where therapies using Treg are already being trialled.

The discussions on the day were facilitated by two highly esteemed experts in the field, Professors’ David Hafler (Yale University) and Michael Ehrenstein (University College London). They kick started the day with their excellent presentations on how the study of Treg in different autoimmune diseases has progressed in the last decade. They presented from the perspective of multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and we also heard from Dr Tim Tree (King’s College London) about the study of Treg in type 1 diabetes.

Additional thought-provoking presentations in the morning focussed on advancing our current approaches to studying human Treg in autoimmune disease and where the field could be in 10 years’ time. This was followed by some impressive examples presented by Professor Lars Klareskog (Karolinska Institute) on conducting longitudinal studies in rheumatoid arthritis patient cohorts in Sweden, and how this clinical information has been used to further their understanding of Treg at different stages of disease.

The morning presentations concluded with an update on ‘Connect Immune Research’ from our colleagues at JDRF and the MS Society, providing an example of how our organisations are already coming together to fund collaborative research across autoimmune diseases.

For the afternoon session, three key challenge areas identified by our facilitators on the study of Treg in human autoimmune diseases which were tackled during group breakout discussions. The main highlights of these discussions were presented, analysed and challenged during the final group plenary session.

With the input from our experts and our Connect Immune Research colleagues, our goal is to a reach consensus on how the research community and research funding organisations can support research that will make headway. We also hope to set criteria for research approaches and raise the ambition of research teams and funding committees, towards genuinely meaningful human studies, which progress the understanding and use of Treg in disease settings.

MSK Champions Versus Arthritis

Following an intensive recruitment process over the summer, we are delighted to have offered 14 truly inspirational individuals from across the UK a place on our very first MSK Champions programme. Their service improvement project proposals are extremely ambitious, ranging from improving regional care pathways, developing new self-management toolkits, improving data collection, to training their peers and community representatives to improve their MSK health care skills.

If you are you passionate about leading change in MSK care, applications for our second cohort on will open on Monday 14 January 2019 and the programme will start in June 2019.