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New £1.3m grant call provides significant boost to autoimmune research

Pioneering partnership between medical research charities and charitable trust brings significant new investment to confront the UK’s high prevalence of autoimmune conditions.  

The Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation working with Connect Immune Research, a coalition of medical research charities, have launched an innovative new grant call to provide £1.3 million of new funding for research into the underlying causes of autoimmunity. 

In all autoimmune conditions, our immune systems attack healthy cells in the body, causing symptoms that have the potential to severely limit people’s lives. They affect an estimated four million people in the UK – equivalent to more than six per cent of the population – but are currently incurable. Examples include type 1 diabetes, coeliac disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and alopecia. Although these conditions affect different parts of the body, we know from observing commonalities that they are somehow linked, and that better understanding this link will pave the way to improved treatments for all autoimmune conditions.

Ian Newsome, an autoimmune patient representative notes, “As an individual faced with more than one autoimmune health condition, I see considerable potential in taking a more holistic approach to understanding the causes and identifying treatments. I feel like a prisoner to the complex, multi-faceted health conditions that I face on a daily basis without any hope of improvement. Bringing together diverse expertise to develop creative solutions seems to be the only hope I have to unlock the cell door!”

The grant scheme aims to bring together researchers from across these autoimmune conditions to pool their knowledge and uncover common threads in their work, with the ultimate aim of developing new treatments for multiple autoimmune conditions, faster.

This first round of funding will provide up to £100,000 for 12 months to fund ‘pilot’ grants aimed at quickly developing proof of principle for potential new treatments for multiple autoimmune conditions by targeting pathways common to the different diseases. On completion, the most promising projects will be invited to apply for follow-on funding to take their work forward. 

Dr Lorna Chernajovsky, co-founder and trustee of the Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation, said:

“At the Chernajovsky Foundation, our aim is to fund innovative, high-quality translational research to bring about the development of new targeted biomedical therapies to improve health. Autoimmunity encompasses a variety of conditions that potentially are driven by similar biological mechanisms. By encouraging collaboration between researchers from across the spectrum of autoimmune disease, there are substantial knowledge gains to be made with the potential of significantly improving treatments for a range of conditions. 

“The Chernajovsky Foundation is delighted to partner with Connect Immune Research on this exciting new grant call. We want to encourage applications targeting biological pathways that are relevant to multiple immune-mediated inflammatory conditions and which prioritise collaboration. By championing proposals that have the potential to advance towards clinical studies, we aim to provide new impetus to research and innovation into autoimmunity, ultimately improving the lives of people living with these conditions.”

Karen Addington, UK Chief Executive of the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, said: 

“The UK is a world leader in immunology research. But for too long research teams have been funded to focus on specific conditions rather than the connections between them. 

“JDRF and partners built Connect Immune Research to empower scientists - to bring us closer to immune research breakthroughs that will transform lives. We are delighted that Connect Immune Research is partnering with the Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation to provide this new funding opportunity.”

Dr Neha Issar-Brown, Director of Research at Versus Arthritis, said: 

“Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating autoimmune condition that does not discriminate by age and impacts the lives of around 400,000 adults over the age of sixteen in the UK. There are many other forms of arthritis that are autoimmune conditions.

“By working together we will achieve a lot more, improving our collective understanding of autoimmune conditions, speeding up the improvement of treatments, and helping not only people with arthritis, but those living with other conditions such as MS and type 1 diabetes.” 

Nick Moberly, Chief Executive at the MS Society, said: 

“Being a part of Connect Immune Research allows us to work alongside other vital charities who support people with autoimmune conditions. MS is relentless, painful and disabling, and we know people who are impacted by the condition want us to take every opportunity to further research. 

“Our goal is for autoimmunity to be recognised as a distinct area of research science, alongside the likes of cancer and dementia. Thanks to exciting new partnerships - like with the Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation - we hope to speed up and strengthen research so we can find a way of preventing these conditions.” 

Dr Doug Brown, Chief Executive of the British Society for Immunology, said:

“Immunology is a vital branch of medical science in which the UK leads the world with new discoveries. Connect Immune Research has joined forces with the Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation to develop this innovative new funding scheme that prioritises a collaborative, integrated approach to autoimmune research. By building on the UK’s existing strength in autoimmune research, we aim to bring together the best brains in immunology to study different autoimmune diseases together, driving forward our understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms and developing new treatments, which will ultimately transform the lives of people living with these conditions."

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Notes for journalists 
Applications to the grant call ‘Targeting shared mechanisms in immune-mediated inflammatory diseases’ open on 11 August and close at 16:00BST, 13 October 2021. Further information can be found here

For further information, contact the British Society for Immunology press office: Jennie Evans; Tel: 07703 807 444; j.evans@immunology.org 

The Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation was set up in 2019 to improve public health by providing grants to support high-quality biomedical research into the development of new targeted biomedical therapies. 

Connect Immune Research is a partnership of charities who are dedicated to tackling autoimmune conditions. Members include the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, Versus Arthritis, MS Society, British Society for Immunology, Alopecia UK, Coeliac UK, Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance and Bowel Research UK

JDRF is the leading global organisation funding type 1 diabetes research. Our mission is to accelerate life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat type 1 diabetes and its complications. To accomplish this, JDRF has invested more than £1.5 billion since our inception. We collaborate with the most talented minds to develop and deliver a pipeline of innovative therapies to people living with type 1 diabetes. Our staff and volunteers around the globe are dedicated to campaigning for our vision of a world without type 1 diabetes. For more information, please visit jdrf.org.uk or follow us on Twitter: @JDRFUK.

MS Society. Over 130,000 people live with multiple sclerosis (MS) in the UK. MS damages nerves in your body and makes it harder to do everyday things, like walk, talk, eat and think. It's relentless, painful, and disabling. It’s unpredictable and different for everyone. The MS Society is here to make life better for people with MS, through research, campaigning, and support. We have a free helpline – 0808 800 8000 – and information can be found on our website www.mssociety.org.uk. We’re driving research into more – and better – treatments for everyone. Together we’re strong enough to stop MS.

Versus Arthritis. There are 18.8 million people living with a musculoskeletal (MSK) condition like arthritis in the UK. That’s one in four people, with half of those living in pain every single day. The impact is huge as the condition intrudes on everyday life – affecting the ability to work, care for a family, to move free from pain and live independently. Yet arthritis is often dismissed as an inevitable part of ageing or shrugged off as ‘just a bit of arthritis’. We don’t think this is ok. Versus Arthritis is here to change that. Find out more at: www.versusarthritis.org

The British Society for Immunology is the UK organisation representing scientists and clinicians who study the immune system. Our mission is to promote excellence in immunological research, scholarship and clinical practice in order to improve human and animal health. Find out more at www.immunology.org.

Alopecia UK is the leading UK charity working to improve the lives of those affected by alopecia through aims of support, awareness and research. We collaborate and work with clinicians, researchers and industry to provide hope and confidence to people with alopecia by funding research into its causes, with the aim of finding treatments, and ultimately, a cure. We keep those with alopecia at the heart of everything we do to ensure that the voice of those with alopecia is always heard. For more information visit www.alopecia.org.uk or follow us on Twitter: @alopeciauk

The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance (PAPAA) is an independently funded charity, which supports and advises people affected by psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Our vision is to see psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis managed in a positive way, more effectively, by putting people affected at the centre of care. We act ethically, with integrity on behalf of our constituent group and advocate and represent them fairly. We support researchers via a small grants scheme and provide healthcare professionals with resources to support their patients, along with access to an accredited professional training programme. For more information, please visit www.papaa.org or follow us on Twitter: @PsoriasisInfo

For over 50 years, Coeliac UK has been the expert on coeliac disease and the gluten free diet. We are an independent charity helping people living without gluten to live happier, healthier lives. We do this by providing trustworthy advice and support, funding critical research into coeliac disease, working with healthcare professionals to improve diagnosis and fighting for better availability of gluten free food. And we do it all so that one day, no one’s life will be limited by gluten. For more information visit www.coeliac.org.uk or follow us on Twitter: @Coeliac_UK and on LinkedIn: @coeliac-uk.

Bowel Research UK is funding life-changing research into bowel cancer and other bowel diseases. Every year over 16,000 people die from bowel cancer in the UK and over a million suffer from bowel disease. By researching cutting edge treatments and investing in the best science, Bowel Research UK is working towards saving and improving people’s lives. The charity was founded in 2020 following a merger between two well-respected charities: Bowel & Cancer Research and Bowel Disease Research Foundation (BDRF).