Public-Private Partnership Launches Osteoarthritis Initiative

For the first time, a public-private partnership will bring together new resources and a commitment to help find biological markers for the progression of osteoarthritis.

The Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI) will collect information and define disease standards on 5,000 people at high risk of having osteoarthritis (OA), and at high risk of progressing to severe osteoarthritis during the five to seven year course of the study. Currently, new drug development for OA is hindered by the lack of objective and measurable standards for disease progression by which new drugs can be evaluated.

The OAI consortium includes public funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and private funding from several pharmaceutical companies such as, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, and Pfizer.

According to Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy G. Thompson,

“The Osteoarthritis Initiative is an excellent example of what the Federal Government and private industry can accomplish when they join hands to share their knowledge and resources. This initiative can speed progress toward better drugs, quicker treatment, and a less painful outcome for vast numbers of people who will develop osteoarthritis.”

The consortium is being facilitated by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, Inc. The OAI will provide approximately $8 million yearly for as many as six clinical research centers to establish and maintain a natural history database for osteoarthritis that will include clinical evaluation data and radiological images, and a biospecimen repository. All data and images collected will be available to researchers worldwide to help quicken the pace of scientific studies and biomarker identification.

“Despite an existing pool of data and research specimens on osteoarthritis, the challenge is to establish a stringently collected archive of information that will drive scientific development in this area. The strength of this initiative is the partnership’s breadth — government and the private sector working together to accomplish what neither could do alone,” said Dr. Stephen I. Katz, director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), one of the principal sponsors.

According to Dr. Richard J. Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) the other principal federal sponsor of the OAI, “Our efforts to help people with osteoarthritis, a disease that affects large numbers of older women and men, have been frustrated by our inability to correlate the results of physical examination, radiological evidence, and biospecimens.”

While recent advances have yielded highly effective therapies for rheumatoid arthritis, no such therapies exist for osteoarthritis, and most current treatments are designed only to relieve the pain and stall the disability caused by bone and joint degeneration. OA is a chronic disease that is different in each person, which complicates clinical trials for new therapies.

As the U.S. population swells with graying baby boomers, vast numbers of people will suffer from degenerative joint diseases. Today, 35 million people, 13 percent of the U.S. population, are 65 and older and more than half of them have evidence of osteoarthritis in at least one joint. By 2030, twenty percent of Americans — about 70 million-will have passed their 65th birthday, and will be at risk for OA.

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