Unique Partnership to Speed Up Osteoarthritis Drug Development
The University of Maryland School of Medicine has received a $7.2 million research contract from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to participate in the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a major seven-year partnership to uncover the causes of osteoarthritis of the knee. The initiative may lead to new drug therapies to prevent the disease or halt its progression.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and the major cause of physical disability in older people. The disease leads to deterioration of bone and cartilage and causes pain, functional limitation and reduced quality of life. It curbs the activity and mobility of 80 percent of the people who have it. Current drug therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee is limited. Available treatments relieve pain and improve physical function but do not reduce disease progression.
"The Osteoarthritis Initiative is tremendously exciting," says Marc C. Hochberg, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine and head of the Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the principal investigator for the Osteoarthritis Initiative at the University of Maryland. "Out of it should come objective measurements and standards to track the onset and progression of osteoarthritis of the knee, tools not available in the past, but critical to the development and evaluation of new biological therapies," he says.
The Osteoarthritis Initiative, the largest multicenter project ever to focus on osteoarthritis, couples rheumatologists and radiologists at four U.S. medical centers with analysts at a data-coordinating center.
Beginning in May 2003, researchers will recruit 5,000 people-1,250 at each center- who are age 50 and older and at high risk for developing knee osteoarthritis. Half of the volunteers enrolled in Baltimore will be African-American. The Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center is working in partnership with the University of Maryland to conduct the Osteoarthritis Initiative in Baltimore.
The centers will identify and catalog the biological and anatomical processes that underlie the development and progression of osteoarthritis, and build a database that may suggest new treatment targets. The database will include clinical evaluation information, radiological (x-ray and magnetic resonance) images and a repository of biological specimens. The data and specimens will be available to researchers worldwide to help accelerate the pace of scientific studies.
The Osteoarthritis Initiative will also study how to obtain the clearest radiological images possible to achieve more accurate assessments of cartilage deterioration. To that end, the project includes funding for a new magnetic resonance imaging machine for each of the four national clinical centers.
"Our hope is that the Osteoarthritis Initiative will take us to the next level in the clarity of diagnostic images. Those images will add enormously to our understanding of what the disease does to the body," says University of Maryland co-investigator Charles S. Resnik, M.D., professor of surgery and diagnostic radiology at the School of Medicine and director of Musculoskeletal Radiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease that breaks down cartilage, the shock absorbing tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint, causing bones to rub against each other, resulting in pain and loss of motion in the joint.
Today, more than half of the 35 million people in the U.S. who are age 65 and older have evidence of osteoarthritis in at least one joint. By 2030, about 20 percent of Americans-about 70 million-will have passed their 65th birthday, and will be at risk for osteoarthritis.
Scientists do not know what causes osteoarthritis, but risk factors include heredity, obesity, joint injury and overuse of certain joints.
Funding for the Osteoarthritis Initiative consortium comes from the NIH and several pharmaceutical companies: GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Co., Inc., Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation and Pfizer.
Other institutions participating in the Osteoarthritis Initiative around the nation include: Ohio State University, Columbus; University of Pittsburgh; Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, Pawtucket; and University of California San Francisco (data coordinating center).
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