Largest Lupus Conference Highlights Precision Medicine

Precision Medicine Theme of 2015 Annual Lupus Scientific Conference
Dedicated to the Late Dr. William Paul, NIH

Featured Speakers Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. Harold Varmus

(Left) Dr. Francis Collins | (Right) Margaret Dowd, Dr. Harold Varmus, Ken Farber
*Photo Credit: Matthew Carasella

Two world-renowned “greats” in scientific research -- Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Dr. Harold Varmus, Former Director of the National Cancer Institute -- headlined the first day of the joint Lupus Research Institute and Alliance for Lupus Research Forum for Discovery.

Both Drs. Collins and Varmus paid stirring tribute to the late Dr. Bill Paul - Chief of the Laboratory of Immunology at the NIH and long-time chair of the LRI Scientific Advisory Board.  Echoing a sentiment expressed throughout the day, Dr. Collins noted, “Bill was an incredibly inspiring legend in immunology but so approachable and so full of enthusiasm and excitement about the field he was part of and such a wonderful mentor to so many.”

Having invited Drs. Collins and Varmus to speak at the Forum he ran for 15 years, Dr. Paul’s vision continued to shape the conference and this year’s theme -- the emerging field of precision medicine.

What is Precision Medicine?
Dr. Varmus defined precision medicine as prevention and treatment strategies that take differences between individuals into account and highlighted its promise to revolutionize research.  Applying the success of precision medicine in cancer to lupus, physicians could potentially tailor treatment plans based on each patient’s genetic and molecular makeup as well as environmental factors and medical history to achieve the greatest impact on patient health with the least side effects.

Dr. Collins noted that while precision medicine has many definitions, for him it is best described as the opposite of the standard one-size-fits-all medicine.  “With existing treatments, healthcare providers have been obliged to diagnose and treat what is an average person with lupus. But who among us considers themselves an average person?”

Dr. Collins presented the exciting progress in President Obama’s precision medicine initiative, which aims to enlist 1 million Americans as research partners. He also discussed the exciting promise of the new NIH Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP) which the LRI and ALR help co-sponsor.  The AMP program is harnessing the resources and knowledge of its public-private partners to expedite the development of new personalized treatments for lupus by matching medications with patients who are most likely to benefit. Commenting on lupus research overall, Dr. Collins remarked, “We are making progress, and that progress is something to be celebrated. But we shouldn’t be satisfied.”  Click here for video interview with Dr. Collins

Margaret Dowd, President and CEO of the LRI, said, “The need for better, safer lupus treatments is tremendous. Because of the complexity of lupus, it can take years to find a treatment program for the patient.  AMP brings the potential to reduce this time dramatically.”

Fundamental Research is Critical
Dr. Varmus focused on the importance of fundamental science in biomedical research noting, “All major research advances against disease have begun with efforts to understand the basic underpinnings of basic biological systems.” He also emphasized the need for a diverse portfolio of research, to span fundamental, translational and clinical research – a dynamic continuum the LRI and ALR encompass in their collaboration and upcoming merger.

ALR President Kenneth Farber expressed heartfelt appreciation to Dr. Collins and all attendees for their ongoing support. “We have a very diverse crowd here, from ALR, LRI, from industry, from NIH, and many incredibly dedicated and talented academic investigators; we are so grateful for all your efforts on our behalf.”