NEW YORK, NY – October 17, 2011 – The Lupus Research Institute (LRI) launched a major international initiative aimed at attracting the highest level scientists to conduct pioneering research to discover the fundamental root causes of lupus, explore the potential for a cure, and transform the field of lupus research. LRI president Margaret Dowd announced the new Distinguished Innovators program amid the nation’s foremost scientists gathered at the 11th annual Lupus Research Institute Scientific Conference, “Forum for Discovery.”
The initiative is being made possible via an $8 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
While current research in the field is developing new treatments to suppress manifestations of lupus, nothing in the drug pipeline addresses root causes or seeks to reverse the disease. Recognizing that the most pivotal advances often come from unexpected directions, LRI is launching the Distinguished Innovator’s program to attract the world’s best talent and foster cross-disciplinary interactions among immunologists, geneticists, and cell, molecular and systems biologists, with the specific aim of finding the root causes and, from there, developing a cure.
“Lupus is a too often overlooked disease that affects 1.5 million people in this country, and thousands of New Yorkers,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, philanthropist and Mayor of New York City. “This grant will fuel the work of the Distinguished Innovators Program and further LRI’s demonstrated track record in significantly advancing medical discovery. I am confident this investment will help advance efforts to find both the basic causes of this complex disease and the cure.”
The Challenge to Change Lupus Research
LRI is asking the international scientific community — within and beyond those currently working in the lupus space — to build upon the growing knowledge base and advancing technology to launch large-scale innovative projects focused on answering the essential question — What are the fundamental causes of lupus?
“If we can get to the fundamental causes, we can get to the cure,” said LRI President Margaret Dowd. “The extremely generous grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies allows us to give the world’s leading scientists significant resources and freedom to explore entirely new directions in lupus research over several years. A decade of documented success powered by novel, high-risk, high-reward innovative research has given us the basis to push even further with this bold initiative.”
“In science, great achievements are based on a willingness to undertake innovative but risky research, risk based on knowledge, but risk nonetheless,” noted world leading immunologist Dr. William Paul, LRI Scientific Advisory Board Chairman and member of the National Academy of Sciences. “The Lupus Research Institute has never shied away from scientific risk-taking. In fact, the Institute has been ahead of the curve in novel lupus research for more than 10 years. Their work has provided the basis for this transformative research initiative to look for the fundamental causes of lupus that can drive to a cure and for the means to prevent lupus.”
The LRI Distinguished Innovators Program will begin as a highly competitive, high profile program aiming to award $1 million grants for transformative large-scale projects that explore unchartered territory to find the primary factors causing lupus with the ultimate goal of attaining prolonged drug-free remission — a cure. The goal is to attract additional major donors to support the program and to build a critical mass of outstanding interactive investigators who are committed to the long-term pursuit of a cure.
A Solid Foundation Built on Innovative Science
Announcing the new program at the LRI annual conference underscores the strong foundation of innovative science already achieved. Presentations included the novel work of more than 35 researchers from many of the country’s finest academic institutions such as Yale and Columbia universities, University of Washington, and UCLA. Lupus studies presented covered the role of genes and environment; B cell signaling and regulation; biomarker discovery; targeting T and B cells; harnessing regulatory T cells; and pathways in inflammation.
Of particular note were presentations by Dr. Timothy Niewold (University of Chicago) on newly discovered genetic factors that might help explain why African Americans are more susceptible to lupus; Dr. Jeffrey Rathmell (Duke University) on a new experimental approach to eliminate autoreactive B cells by interfering with their metabolism; and by Dr. Jane Salmon (Hospital for Special Surgery, New York) on an anti-inflammatory pathway triggered by the nervous system that could potentially be harnessed to suppress inflammatory tissue damage in lupus.
The keynote dinner speaker at the Conference was Rockefeller University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, PhD, a world leader in the study of brain development and the former chief scientific officer of biotech giant Genentech. An industry forum featuring presenters from EMD Serono, Genentech Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, University of Colorado focused on ways to overcome challenges in translating scientific discovery to therapeutic interventions.