New Collaboration with University of Oxford Showcases UHs Strength as an Academic Medical Center

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By Cliff Megerian, MD
President, UH Physician Network and System Institutes

UH Clinical Update - March 2019

Less than three years ago, University Hospitals made a big shift in its relationship as an academic medical center with our longtime primary affiliate – the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine  – to allow us and the medical school to have multiple affiliates.

This iteration allowed us to develop relationships with other important universities as it related to discrete projects. 

Earlier this month, we at UH shared tremendous news, which was then picked up by media outlets here and in Europe. The Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals, under the leadership of Jonathan S. Stamler, MD, had formed a multi-year collaboration with University of Oxford in England to establish the Oxford-Harrington Rare Disease Centre. Dr. Stamler is president of Harrington Discovery Institute and Reitman Family Distinguished Chair of Cardiovascular Innovation at UH and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

The goal of the new partnership is to bring hope to millions of people who suffer from rare diseases for which there are no therapies. 

Headquartered in both Cleveland and Oxford, this endeavor means we can combine the capabilities, resources and expertise of these two stellar organizations. Doing so will undoubtedly support leading-edge breakthroughs in the creation of drugs that have the greatest potential, across the U.S. and the U.K.

This is a noteworthy example of a collaboration between UH and what is perhaps the most prestigious university in the world. Besides bringing hope for those with rare diseases, for which drug development opportunities are scarce or non-existent, this is also a great win for our physicians.  It will allow for a number of our most esteemed researchers to hold appointments as visiting professors at Oxford, and for us to reciprocate, as some of Oxford’s finest academicians will become visiting professors here.

The Centre will be led by faculty members from both institutions who will engage in rich scientific collaboration to uncover new biology and develop new therapies. In addition, the Centre’s faculty will participate in joint grants and publications to enhance research efforts at both institutions. And finally, the Centre will oversee a United Kingdom-wide granting program that advances the most promising discoveries in rare diseases into therapeutics. 

More than 350 million people around the world live with a rare disease, and about half of them are children. Here in the U.S., rare conditions affect one in 10 Americans, and only 5 percent of these diseases have an FDA-approved treatment. The diseases are usually genetic and affect patients for their entire lives. An orphan disease is defined as one with such rarity that there is a lack of a market large enough to gain support and resources for discovering treatments for it. These diseases number in the several thousands and include certain types of cancer, Huntington’s disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis, to name just a few. 

Imagine being one of the people, or having a loved one, who suffers from a serious, even devastating, illness and has little or no hope for effective therapies.

This dire proposition was the impetus for the founding of the Harrington Discovery Institute in 2012 – to support promising drug-development projects with a focus on diseases where the unmet need is the greatest. Harrington Discovery Institute — part of The Harrington Project for Discovery & Development — was created to advance scientific discoveries over the drug development's "valley of death" — the stage when a new discovery is seen as promising but is insufficiently validated to attract the funding needed for clinical trials.

Since then, the institute has supported more than 100 drugs-in-the-making across disease areas and academic institutions.

The creation of HDI naturally gained the attention of the University of Oxford, which has more than 250 principal investigators/scientists working on more than 350 rare diseases. It was also that same year, 2012, that the Oxford Rare Disease Initiative was established, as a collaboration between the University of Oxford and the Oxford University Hospitals Trust. That partnership combined preclinical and clinical expertise in a variety of areas, such as neurology, immunology and hematology, and created an extensive rare-disease network. 

Now, thanks to UH, that network is even larger.

Of course, UH maintains its affiliation with the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, as well as establishing this partnership in the U.K. The future might bring more affiliations. 

All are, and will be, more examples of UH's commitment to Advancing the Science of Health.

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