NIHR | Manchester Biomedical Research Centre

BRC researchers contribute to largest ever biomarker project to improve disease management across seven long-term conditions

Our researchers are contributing to the largest ever project of its kind, which aims to increase understanding of patient responses to the treatment of seven long-term conditions.

3TR brings together 69 partner organisations – including NIHR Manchester BRC – from 15 European member states, in a public-private research initiative. The project will receive more than €80 million during the next seven years, in funding provided by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI2), a joint undertaking of the European Union and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).

Using safe and secure methods, data and samples from more than 50,000 patients, across 50 clinical trials, will be made available to researchers working on 3TR. The ultimate aim is to discover and verify biomarkers to improve patient management of autoimmune, inflammatory and allergic diseases.

The project aims to fundamentally enhance knowledge of the molecular pathways and mechanisms linked to response and non-response to therapy in people with: lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease – including Crohn’s and colitis – asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Despite their differences, recent studies have shown that certain patterns are shared by patients across these diseases on the molecular level, suggesting they may also share pathways of response to treatment and disease progression.

Professor Anne Barton, who leads our musculoskeletal research theme, as well as the adult inflammatory arthritis programme within it, is taking part in the initiative. Professor Barton will be collecting tissue and blood samples from patients with rheumatoid arthritis as part of a clinical trial.

Our Director, Professor Ian Bruce, who also leads our connective tissue disease programme, joins Professor Barton as an NIHR Manchester BRC contributor to 3TR.

Professor Barton said: “This exciting programme complements and will enhance the work of our BRC.

“Our researchers are working across all seven of our themes to discover new biomarkers, which are any measurable diagnostic indicators found in tissue, blood and other bodily fluids, used to assess the risk or presence of disease.

“This project will allow us to build on our work in rheumatoid arthritis, within our musculoskeletal theme, in which we are identifying biomarkers in the bloodstream and joint tissue that will help us match the right treatments to the right patients.

This is at the heart of our ‘being personal’ ethos, as your health is personal to us and our research is personal to you.

Professor Anne Barton

A photo of Professor Anne Barton

More about 3TR

Part of our approach as a BRC is to work with industry partners, from large multinationals to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to turn research ideas into clinical answers.

This fits well with the aims of 3TR, which is bringing together experts from different medical fields – including profiling technologies, systems biology and bioinformatics – with specialists from innovative SMEs and leading pharmaceutical companies, on a very large scale.

Marta Alarcón-Riquelme, Scientific Coordinator of 3TR and Head of Medical Genomics at the GENYO centre at the Fundación Pública Andaluza Progreso y Salud, said: “For the first time, the 3TR team will align and integrate the analysis of autoimmune, allergic, and inflammatory conditions to identify the relationship between longitudinal molecular and microbiome profiles in blood cells and tissues, and disease paths.

In a unique approach, we will study the seven diseases both in parallel and jointly.

Marta Alarcón-Riquelme

“We believe that this high-resolution, multi-omics profiling analysis of individualised response to treatment and disease progression will facilitate stratification and identification of molecular patterns that better predict response or non-response to therapy.

“This comprehensive approach will help identify biomarkers to improve patient management within these diseases.”

Professor Tony Whetton leads our biomarker platform crosscutting theme. He said: “Biomarkers make up a significant part of our research at the BRC, with more than half our studies containing one or more biomarker elements. 3TR is certainly an important and major project that draws upon the BRC’s expertise across the clinical and biomarkers themes.

“Patients with long-term conditions, such as inflammatory and respiratory disease, need monitoring closely for their benefit. Identifying new biomarkers means we can quickly ensure patients promptly get the right treatment for them. This could be through looking for new blood proteins that indicate positive response to treatment, or analysing complex data sets that find common elements in lifestyle or clinical characteristics, which mean some patients respond better to one type of treatment than others.”

The 3TR team officially kicked off activities with its first meeting in Granada, Spain, at the end of October and continue to meet regularly.

Find out more about the project on the 3TR website or follow @3TR_IMI on Twitter.