Therapeutic goals set the tone for the American College of Rheumatology National Research Agenda 2016-2020 by calling for the discovery and development of new therapies for rheumatic disease; finding predictors of response and nonresponse to, and adverse events from therapy; and improving the understanding of how therapies should be used.
Those are the top 3 out of 15 goals facilitated by the ACR’s Committee on Research, which finalized the agenda after seeking input from members of the ACR and Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals (ARHP) living in the United States, and going through several rounds of refining and prioritizing the importance of goals through the input of clinicians, researchers, patients, and stakeholders. The Committee on Research uses the agenda to “set the compass for the organization in terms of research initiatives and facilitate the ACR’s advocacy for the research goals identified.”
Dr. Alexis R. Ogdie-Beatty, who jointly led the development of the agenda for the Committee on Research along with Dr. S. Louis Bridges, said that while the goals for 2016-2020 had a great deal of overlap with those of 2011-2015, “some of the topics that came up were different. Some of the topics were more specific than in the previous agenda. We have some idea how important these issues were to rheumatologists, given that rheumatologists (and patients) rated the importance of the items. Defining new therapeutic targets and developing new therapies for rheumatic diseases was by far the most highly rated goal by rheumatologists. Next most highly rated was to advocate for increased support for rheumatology research and rheumatology investigators – this was included as a supplementary goal that supports the rest of the agenda. Other newer items were those around determining how the changing health care landscape affects rheumatology patients and clinicians. In addition, nonpharmacologic therapy, adult outcomes of pediatric disease, and optimizing patient engagement were topics that were felt to be important. I think these highlight the input of clinicians in identifying research objectives.”
The 2016-2020 agenda is the third set of goals developed by the committee since 2005, and the first to “crowdsource” the important questions to ACR and ARHP members rather than be assembled solely by the committee.
The agenda arose from a multistage process that began with a web-based survey to the ACR/ARHP membership that asked respondents to “list the five most important research questions that need to be addressed over the next 5 years in order to improve the care for patients with rheumatic disease.” A selected group of 100 individuals representing patients, clinicians (academic and community), research (all types with diverse areas/diseases of interest), allied health professionals, pediatric and adult rheumatology, men and women, all career stages, and all regions of the country, used a Delphi exercise to rate 30 statements generated from the survey on a scale from 1 (not important) to 10 (very important). They had the option to provide comments. At a Leadership Summit, stakeholders from various nonprofit foundations associated with rheumatic diseases, the National Institutes of Health, and the president of the Rheumatology Research Foundation gave comments on a draft agenda to the Committee on Research, after which the committee discussed the results and input and then solicited further 1-10 ratings and comments on preliminary agenda goals from the same group of 100 individuals as in the second phase, plus an additional 17 clinicians.
Up next in the rank-ordering after therapeutic goals were three goals about understanding:
• The etiology, pathogenesis, and genetic basis of rheumatic diseases.
• Early disease states to improve early diagnosis, develop biomarkers for early detection, and determine how earlier treatment changes outcomes.
• The immune system and autoimmunity by defining autoimmunity triggers and determining how epigenetics affect disease susceptibility and inflammation.
The 5-year plan proposed developing improved outcome measures that incorporate patient self-reports, imaging, and measures of clinical response and disease activity. The agenda also seeks to gain better understanding of how patients with rheumatic disease, rheumatologists, and rheumatology health professionals are being affected by the changing U.S. health care landscape.
The plan calls for determining the role of nonpharmacologic therapy in the management of rheumatic disease (promoting and improving adherence to physical activity, finding optimal exercise prescriptions, and determining the role of diet on disease activity), as well as evaluating the role of regenerative medicine.
The agenda spells out the need for better engagement of patients in their care as well as for understanding how comorbidities are influenced by rheumatic disease and how pain and fatigue arise in rheumatic disease.