A report launched today reveals rapidly rising rates of autoimmune conditions are costing the UK billions each year.
The report shows direct and indirect costs to the UK for just three autoimmune conditions alone – type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis – currently add up to more than £13 billion per year. There are more than 80 autoimmune conditions known to science.
The report from Connect Immune Research, a group of medical research charities, shows that many autoimmune conditions are becoming more common, with some increasing in incidence by as much as 9% each year – potentially meaning further increased costs in the future. Medical science does not yet know the reason for the rise, and the charities are campaigning for change in the way research is approached.
Chloe Gillum, 25, is a paediatric nurse who lives with three autoimmune conditions. At the age of nine she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and went on to develop vitiligo and an underactive thyroid, which caused secondary Raynaud’s. The autoimmune conditions all need daily medication which requires management, patience and discipline, but as Chloe explains: “One of the hardest things about living with autoimmune conditions is people not understanding the impact this has on my life.”
More detail on Chloe’s experiences with each condition can be found in the report.
Autoimmune conditions see the body’s immune system mistakenly attack healthy cells in the body. Examples include type 1 diabetes, coeliac disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The report claims rising incidence and costs mean autoimmunity in the UK needs greater recognition and investment as a distinct research area, alongside the likes of cancer, infectious disease and dementia.
There are four million people in the UK known to be living with at least one autoimmune condition. But the Connect Immune Research report highlights that people often live with more than one autoimmune condition, a fact the charities describe as “underreported”.
People living with autoimmune conditions from across the UK will attend the launch of the #AutoimmuneAware report in Parliament today. Members of Parliament will also be in attendance, and will be encouraged to support research into the conditions.
Dr Doug Brown, Chief Executive of the British Society for Immunology said:
“The UK is a world leader in immunology research and we must ensure this excellence is reflected in the therapies that we can provide to patients in the clinic. The past decade has seen significant and exciting advances in our knowledge of how the immune system functions, highlighting new research avenues that we can explore to improve diagnosis, treatment and even prevention of autoimmune diseases.
“With the current rise in the number of people living with autoimmune conditions, Connect Immune Research aims to bring together researchers and funders who work on these different conditions to pool knowledge, exploiting the UK’s strength in this area, which we hope will lead to us transforming the lives of people living with autoimmune conditions.”
Karen Addington, UK Chief Executive of JDRF, said:
“This alarming and unexplained rise in autoimmune conditions among the UK population must be confronted. These conditions are causing pain, difficulty and lost opportunities in work and life."
Genevieve Edwards, Director of External Affairs at the MS Society, said:
“By collaborating in this way and linking world-class researchers together, we believe we can transform the lives of people living with autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis – which alone affects over 100,000 people in the UK.
“Driving research forward is essential if we’re to make the scientific discoveries so vitally needed in autoimmunity. That’s why we need the UK government to offer their support, and recognise this as a distinct area of research science - much like cancer, infectious disease, and dementia. Around four million people in the UK have an autoimmune condition and we must find a way to prevent that figure from escalating.”
Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Research at Versus Arthritis, said:
“We know that there are over 400,000 people in the UK living with rheumatoid arthritis. The pain and fatigue caused by arthritis can significantly impact a person’s ability to move freely– making it difficult for them to travel to work, care for their family or get dressed.
“The immune system continues to intrigue us and as we get closer to finding ways of moderating its response in inflammatory arthritis, new and unexpected challenges emerge. This is why it’s important for charities and scientists to come together in this way and look at autoimmune conditions collectively, as well as focusing on specific conditions. By working together and sharing expertise, we can ramp up our understanding and address questions not only relevant to people with arthritis but for those living with other autoimmune conditions, such as MS and type 1 diabetes.”
Connect Immune Research is a first-of-its-kind coalition developed by the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, the MS Society and Versus Arthritis, supported by the British Society for Immunology. The initiative aims to promote a multi-disciplinary approach to autoimmune research, and grow funding and research infrastructure in order to develop new treatment and diagnosis options.
Spokespeople for comment and interview will be available on request.
Also available will be Daniel M. Davis, Professor of Immunology, University of Manchester and author of The Beautiful Cure: “Bringing together autoimmune charities and research teams to tackle the underlying causes of autoimmune conditions is a no-brainer.
“The immune system is today one of the best understood parts of the human body. With so many details in hand, and so many new medicines being developed to nudge the power of immunity up or down, the time is right for us to come together to try and defeat autoimmune disease once and for all.”
Extra information and newsdesk notes
You can view the full report here.
For different autoimmune conditions, incidence is increasing at ranges between 3% and 9% year on year. This includes:
- 7.0% increase per year of rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
- 6.3% increase of endocrinological conditions such as type 1 diabetes
- 3.7% increase of neurological such as MS
- Coeliac disease shows the greatest increase per year at about 4–9% a year
The £13bn costs per year for the UK include the following condition-specific costs:
- £2.6bn for multiple sclerosis
- £8.7bn for rheumatoid arthritis
- £1.9bn for type 1 diabetes
The report also highlights how Wellcome and the Medical Research Council (MRC) supported the development of Connect Immune Research, and that the MRC has since set up its own initiative to help bring immune researchers working on different conditions together.
For more information on Connect Immune Research go to www.jdrf.org.uk/connect
For further information contact the JDRF press team: firstname.lastname@example.org / 07908 155480.
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 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.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects more than 100,000 people in the UK. The condition is often painful and exhausting and can cause problems with how we walk, move, see, think and feel. It’s unpredictable and different for everyone. The MS Society is here for people with MS, through the highs, lows and everything in between. In addition to campaigning on issues including social care, welfare, and treatment options, we invest millions of pounds in ground-breaking research. We have a free helpline - 0808 800 8000 and information can be found on our website www.mssociety.org.uk.
See www.versusarthritis.org for more information about Versus Arthritis.
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.