Stratified Medicine - The Latest SRUK Grant Call

What is stratified medicine? Stratified medicine is also known as personalised medicine and works by dividing patients within the larger group into subgroups by factors that make their condition different.

SRUK are proud to announce that in July, we launched a funding call for scientific researchers: Stratified Medicine of the Future, a joint grant call with the World Scleroderma Foundation! We’re now in stage two of the process: the full applications.

SRUK strive to fund research that will have the greatest positive impact for our community, which is why £100,000 is being awarded to the top research proposal linked to ‘stratified medicine’.

But what is stratified medicine, and why is it so important for people with scleroderma?

What is stratified medicine?

Stratified medicine is also known as personalised medicine, and works by dividing patients within the larger group into subgroups by factors that make their condition different.

Many things can separate subgroups, including differing mechanisms of disease, response to certain treatments, speed of onset, or simply a person’s genetics.

Breaking down the larger population into smaller groups enables the tailoring of treatments to those particular groups, by understanding the exact nature of their condition in more detail. When a method of stratifying patients has been developed, it ensures patients get the right treatment at the right time.  

Why is stratified medicine important for scleroderma research?

Scleroderma is incredibly complicated. Multiple organs can become involved, the rate of progression between those with scleroderma varies, and the age of onset can be very different for each person.

All of this indicates that within scleroderma patients there are subgroups. Some have already been identified, such as limited or diffuse SSc. In identifying these groups, it has allowed clinical trials to be designed more specifically, resulting in more specific treatments. Examples of SRUK funded work to produce outcome measures for these specific groups can be foundon our website.

Our latest grant call hopes to initiate work in identifying more groups and designing targeted diagnosis and treatment methods for those subgroups.

Practical Example of Stratification

Imagine a group of people taking part in a clinical trial for a new treatment, all of whom have scleroderma. Half of the participants (Subgroup A) have ‘gene 1’ turned on, and half of the patients (Subgroup B) do not. This splits the group into two subgroups within the cohort involved in the trial.

If the scientists running the clinical trial are able to identify this, they can assess the effect of the treatment on each group separately, meaning if it only benefits people in Subgroup B and has either no effect or a negative effect on Subgroup A, then the drug can be licenced for that group only. If however the two subgroups cannot be told apart (stratified), then the treatment may not be licenced as the population on the whole did not improve sufficiently.

Progress so far

Following its launch in July, SRUK received 11 expressions of interest for this grant call. An expression of interest can be thought of almost like a cover letter for grant applications. It’s short, explains the project briefly, and gives the deciding committee a flavour of the work that is being proposed.

These 11 projects were whittled down to just 5 stand-outs by the Research Sub-Committee (RSC) in a competitive round of the grant call! Each proposal focused on its own method of stratifying Scleroderma and Raynaud’s patients, in work that included; imaging technology, investigating genetics, patient modelling to assess drug responses, and developing our molecular understanding of scleroderma.

The remaining 5 research teams are now in the process of writing full applications, which will be discussed by the RSC in the new year before the winning project is announced at the 7th Systemic Sclerosis World Congress 2022!

Who are The World Scleroderma Foundation, and why are we partnering with them?

The World Scleroderma Foundation promote and support global research into all aspects of scleroderma, and have partnered previously with SRUK on the grant call: ‘Outcome Measures in Systemic Sclerosis.’

The two successful projects from this grant are developing a series of outcome measures to assess the efficacy of treatments in dcSSc and lcSSc – two of the aforementioned subgroups identified within scleroderma, highlighting how vital it can be to stratify patients.

Together SRUK and the WSF are proving funding to a ‘first step’ project, to generate pilot data, which can be used to support a larger, follow-on application.