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£12m research centre will improve efficiency of rare disease trials to unlock tests and treatments

Researchers from BHP founder member the University of Birmingham are part of a new £12m research centre to improve clinical trials for rare diseases.

The LifeArc Centre for Acceleration of Rare Disease Trials brings together a consortium of three universities from across the UK. Newcastle University, Queen’s University Belfast, and University of Birmingham are pooling their expertise in a partnership coordinated by Professor David Jones, Professor of Liver Immunology at Newcastle University.

The £12m centre will focus on improving the efficiency of rare disease trials and increasing the number of opportunities for patients to take part, through a new UK ‘4 nations’ approach to deliver trials of new treatments using ‘one stop’, patient friendly models.

The team will do this by creating a rare disease trial recruitment portal and will design and deliver trials in partnership with patients. This will speed up the delivery of clinical trials for people with rare diseases and enable more rapid approval of new therapies for use in the NHS.

Professor Timothy Barrett, Director of the Centre for Rare Disease Studies at the University of Birmingham commented: “Birmingham is justly proud of its hospital services and scientific research for people living with rare conditions, which build on our partnership between hospitals and University and reflects the cosmopolitan nature of our region. 

“This award will represent a stepping stone in our ambition for patients in Birmingham to get more treatments to more people with rare diseases, faster. It also allows us to expand capacity for rare disease clinical trials for the whole of the UK.”

Kerry Leeson-Beevers is the parent of a child with the rare genetic condition, Alström Syndrome, which often causes loss of vision and hearing, and can lead to serious life-threatening problems with the heart, liver and kidneys.

Kerry, who is also CEO of Alström Syndrome UK, explained: “We have no specific treatment for Alström Syndrome and when my son, Kion, was a baby, I was told it could take around 10 years for any treatment to be developed. 20 years later, we are still waiting. People living with rare conditions don’t have the luxury of time and the mainstream way of delivering healthcare and drug development rarely works for people with rare conditions.

“As a mum and the Chief Executive of Alström Syndrome UK, having a centre that will deliver a coordinated, inclusive and supportive approach to accelerate clinical trials gives me great hope.”

The LifeArc Centre for Acceleration of Rare Disease Trials, along with the the LifeArc Centre for Rare Respiratory Diseases, LifeArc Centre for Rare Kidney Diseases, and LifeArc Centre for Rare Mitochondrial Diseases, has been awarded a share of nearly £40M over five years from the not-for-profit medical research charity, LifeArc.

Each centre will tackle an area of unmet need, to unlock science, accelerate medical progress and have the greatest impact for patients.

Dr Catriona Crombie, Head of Rare Disease at LifeArc, said: “We’re extremely proud to be launching four new LifeArc Translational Centres for Rare Diseases. Each centre has been awarded funding because it holds real promise for delivering change for people living with rare diseases. These centres also have the potential to create a blueprint for accelerating improvements across other disease areas, including common diseases.”

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