News for researchers

We need to become a truly inclusive organisation

You may be aware that, in July 2020 staff allegations of bullying and racism emerged within the charity.  We quickly initiated an internal investigation which recommended that we commission an independent and external review of all open cases, known to the charity, of racism and bullying and a review of all HR policies, practices, and case management.

Following a procurement process, the employment specialists Tell Jane were appointed. The investigations have now completed and we can now update you on the findings and conclusions from this work as well as what we are doing. 

In terms of specific cases, 10 allegations of bullying and four of racism and bullying were investigated by Tell Jane. Thirteen allegations were not upheld, including all four of the racism allegations and nine out of the ten bullying allegations. The one allegation of bullying that has been partially upheld is being progressed in line with our procedures, which includes a disciplinary investigation.  

Although Tell Jane were not appointed to review the culture of Versus Arthritis, through their work they made a series of observations and it is important to see the outcomes of the investigations in this context:  

  • There is evidence that some people within the charity may not feel able to raise issues or feel confident that they will be addressed.   
  • Some people lack trust in the HR team and/or managers to deal with the issues effectively.  
  • Whilst there has not been a finding of racism in this investigation, there are undercurrents of race issues as highlighted at the Tackling Systemic Racism event in July 2020 and the concern expressed by some employees to come forward and speak out. 

As an organisation, we are clear that this is not acceptable, it is not in line with our values or the charity we want to be. We are collectively committed to changing our culture at all levels within the organisation. We will adopt a zero-tolerance approach to racism and bullying, creating a development plan for HR, improving relevant policies and practice, and through anti-racism training for employees and volunteers, beginning with leaders and line managers. We are committed to creating a fully inclusive culture - through our forthcoming strategy and action plan for diversity and inclusion (D&I) and providing further training and resources for all employees and volunteers.

This has been an extremely challenging time for the organisation. We are committed to doing this difficult work to move forward and become a strong, diverse organisation, where all colleagues – both within the organisation and those outside it - feel safe, respected, and empowered. 

View our action plan: Versus Arthritis: Tell Jane Outcomes and Next Steps. (PDF, 202KB)

It is only by creating a truly diverse and inclusive organisation that we will deliver our vision for people with arthritis.  

You can read more from our acting CEO Ellen Miller: We must do more to become truly inclusive and anti-racist

Announcing our new Director of Research

After eight years with the charity, Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Research, will be leaving Versus Arthritis at the end of January. In his time at the charity Stephen has worked with our talented research community towards many notable achievements. These include leading and championing our work on pain, bringing together influential leaders across the research sector to develop the Pain Roadmap, resulting in the single biggest investment in pain research. He also championed investment into pioneering research areas such as the microbiome, translational medicine and forging links to understand relationships between arthritis and other long-term conditions like cancer.

Under his tenure, we have increased partnership working; attracting over £20 million of direct funding over the last eight years, from UKRI and NIHR and diverse partners such as CRUK, MQ, and Lilly. We have built on Arthritis Research UK’s initial commitment to patient involvement, convening a new group of patient insight partners to help us work towards the goal that that no decision about research funding is made without the input of those who will directly benefit from it. We have continued to support and celebrate our vital research talent and future leaders through fellowships and importantly, over the last year, we have worked across the UK medical research sector and other organisations such as Academy of Medical Science and the Association of Medical Research Charities, to cooperate and collaborate on important challenges including the sector response to Covid-19.

Dr Stephen Simpson said, “I am incredibly proud of the work that we have achieved together over the last eight years, from raising the importance of pain as a key research challenge to championing the voices of people with arthritis in decision making. Although COVID and Brexit pose significant challenges for the MSK research sector, I am confident that together with our partners, Versus Arthritis will continue to support world leading research that fundamentally changes the lives of people with arthritis.”

Dr Neha Issar-Brown, Direct of Research

As Stephen moves on, we are excited to announce that Dr Neha Issar-Brown will be joining us as the new Director of Research. Neha joins us from Fight for Sight, where she worked as Director of Research, Policy and Innovation and initiated the development of the charity’s first patient centric research strategy.

Neha was previously Head of Population Health and System Medicine at the UKRI's Medical Research Council (MRC), where she was responsible for the broadest research portfolios within UKRI covering basic biomedical research through clinical and translational research, and interdisciplinary interfaces with socioeconomic, population and public health. She was the MRC strategic lead for several high priority areas such as healthy ageing, precision medicine, rare diseases as well as MSK research. Neha is passionate about patient involvement and has conceptualised and led many flagship initiatives with patients at their core, including the MRC-NIHR partnerships on multimorbidity and ME/chronic fatigue syndrome.

Her voluntary work extends her broader commitment to diversity and includes being an RCOG women’s voices panel member, a L’Oreal women in science STEM ambassador and Teach First UK youth mentor. Neha also sits on the Governing boards of educational academies, where she serves as an equality, diversity and inclusion champion.

Dr Neha Issar-Brown said, “I am thrilled to be joining Versus Arthritis as this exciting time in the development of its research strategy. I am particularly excited about working for an organisation that has such a strong track record in putting the views of people with arthritis at the heart of its work, ensuring that no decision is made without the involvement of those who will be directly impacted. I look forward to meeting with and becoming part of this exciting team.”

We look forward to Neha joining us from Monday 1 February 2021. We will also be hosting a “hello and goodbye” webinar, giving you the chance to hear from and speak to Stephen and Neha. This will be held on Wednesday 27 January 12.30 - 1.30pm. If you would like to sign up, please contact us on ResearchLiaison@versusarthritis.org.

Nurse and allied health professional internship scheme – applications open

Applications are now open for our Nurse and Allied Health Professional Internship Scheme. This scheme is open to recent graduates (within 5 years) or final year students in an AHP profession (HCPC registerable) or Nursing with either a predicted or a first or 2:1 degree who have an interest in clinical research into the personal impact of arthritis and musculoskeletal diseases. The internships are for eight weeks full-time equivalent with the core dates covering July and August but flexible and part-time options are available. They provide opportunities to gain research experience working alongside some of the UK’s leading nurse and allied health researchers.

Full details of the Nurse and allied health professional internship scheme are available here.

How to apply

For further information about the internship programme, to register an expression of interest or for details of how to apply, please contact Mary Fry on m.l.fry@soton.ac.uk.

More details can also be found by:

  • Watching this video to find out more from Prof Cathy Bowen (Principal Investigator) and Mary Fry (Programme Manager): https://youtu.be/yIzrIu6SLNc.
  • Downloading the programme flyer (PDF, 396 KB).
  • Following @MSKinterns on twitter.

Clinical Research Fellowships – deadline extended: 3 March 2021

Applications are now open for our next Clinical Research Fellowship call. Clinical research fellowships are our entry level scheme for talented medical and non-medical healthcare professionals. They're awarded to encourage clinically qualified professionals into an academic research career in any discipline relevant to arthritis and related musculoskeletal conditions. They aim to provide training in clinical and/or laboratory research techniques leading to a higher degree (usually a PhD).

We are keen to encourage all applications that fit the eligibility criteria however as part of this call we would also specifically welcome applications that would help us work towards our ambition to support every child and young person diagnosed with arthritis. To do this additional research is needed to better understand the conditions and their impact in these age groups, and to pave the way for new treatments, developments in health services, and ultimately cures.

Full details of the scheme and guidance documents are available here.

Additional information and FAQ’s about applying for fellowships are available here.

How to apply

The deadline for applications is 3 March 2021.

Detailed information and guidance on applying for the fellowships is available here. Applications should be made through Grant Tracker. For all enquiries, please contact research@versusarthritis.org.

Our responses to Government consultations

Our Policy and Public Affairs team builds on our position as an arthritis charity and a trusted research funder, to raise awareness of arthritis and related conditions and make recommendations about Government funding decisions and policy.

We undertake policy activities both individually, and in collaboration with the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and others; the combined impact of COVID-19 (PDF, 135 KB) and Brexit has meant working together with other charities and groups is even more critical.

An important aspect of our recent policy work has focussed on providing the evidence on why musculoskeletal (MSK) research in particular, and charity-funded research more widely, is so important.

Our three recent research-specific responses to Government consultations, are listed below:

The latest spending review has been delayed for some time due to last year’s snap election and the COVID-19 pandemic but we were able to submit our responses at the end of September.

We included our call for funding support for cutting-edge research - supporting the economy through a vibrant science sector and addressing MSK conditions through long-term investment in research.

We took this chance at the start of September to share our thoughts on the opportunities that research brings to boosting economic recovery post-COVID-19.

We highlighted how our researchers have responded flexibly and creatively to COVID-19, from joining the frontline response to pausing, adapting or re-focusing their research. We were able to demonstrate that research funded over many years underpins rapid and innovative solutions at challenging times.

We were also able to share our concerns that pre-COVID-19, there were inequalities to address in funding across underserved health conditions, including MSK health. We therefore urged the Government to ensure investment in urgent, non-COVID-19 health-related research was not reduced.

In July, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategies (BEIS) published its Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap, as the beginning of a conversation to test the detail in Government funding plans.

The Roadmap raised important questions about how to ensure the UK has a healthy R&D system and addressed concerns about regional inequalities, research culture and the need for regulatory and funding reforms.

Through our consultation response in August, we shared our support for the Government’s vision for the UK to be a global science superpower and highlighted the unique and distinctive role that medical research charities have to play in shaping that vision.

More detail of the consultation process can be found here, or if you want to know more about any of this work, please contact policy@versusarthritis.org.

Accelerating New Treatments - applications open

Applications are now open for our Accelerating New Treatments call.

This is the first funding call around the Musculoskeletal Translational Research Collaboration (MSK TRC), which is a partnership between Versus Arthritis and the National Institute for Health Research. The MSK TRC collaboration was established to bring internationally renowned UK based research centres to be at the forefront of musculoskeletal experimental medicine, accelerating new treatments and moving us closer towards a world free from pain, fatigue and isolation of arthritis.

This funding call will support research projects that advance the translational pathway to delivering new treatments or cutting-edge improvements for people with arthritis. Projects must be human studies across the areas of prevention, diagnosis or treatment. They must also address an unmet need in arthritis and align with the Musculoskeletal Translational Research Collaboration’s themes, including:

  • connective tissue diseases
  • inflammatory arthritis
  • osteoarthritis
  • pain

We are particularly interested in applications that consider life-course, both young and old. COVID-19 related studies are also of interest.

The deadline for applications is 4.00pm on 18 January 2021.

Who should apply?

Applications must be collaborative and involve at least two key organisations of the MSK TRC as a lead, co-applicant or collaborator. Collaborations with industry partners are encouraged, and international partners are welcome. Applications should not exceed £300,000.

How to apply?

Detailed information and guidance on applying for the scholarships can be found here. Applications should be made through Grant Tracker. For all enquiries, please contact research@versusarthritis.org.

Celebrating our researchers

We are proud of our researchers and all of the work they do to improve the lives of people with arthritis and related conditions. We would like to celebrate two of our researchers who have recently been awarded for their work.

British Orthopaedic Research Society Award

We would like to congratulate Professor Sally Roberts, who has recently been awarded the British Orthopaedic Research Society Presidential Medal 2020. She was awarded the medal for her important research that is improving the lives of people living with arthritis, particularly her research into treating disc degeneration and repairing cartilage using cell-based therapies.

Sally is funded by Versus Arthritis for some of her research, and in fact led the research that led to one of our latest research achievements; the development of the autologous chondrocyte implantation procedure, which can be used to treat early onset osteoarthritis. The research was recently featured on BBC’s The One Show.

Honorary Fellowship

We would also like to congratulate Professor Philip Helliwell who has been awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. The award was given for his contribution to research around rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease podiatry, credited with establishing the base for this type of research.

Versus Arthritis have funded Philip for some of his research, and one of the key achievements that we would like to highlight here is the TICOPA study. The research found that psoriatic arthritis outcomes are improved if the treatment given at diagnosis is tighter, and more aggressive, meaning patients are given escalating dosages of drugs if their condition is not responding.

Your achievements

If you or anyone in your research team has a recent achievement or award to celebrate, please do let us know by contacting research@versusarthritis.org, we love to hear about them!

Medical Technologies IKC and Versus Arthritis Virtual Conference 2020

Wednesday 18 November 2020 11.00-15.30 (free of charge)

We are proud to have teamed up with Medical Technologies Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC) at the University of Leeds to bring you a unique opportunity to hear the latest in medical technology development.

To date, Versus Arthritis and IKC have collaborated on five annual funding calls to support the innovation and use of medical technologies to improve the lives of people with musculoskeletal conditions. The focus of this funding has been on projects with clearly defined commercialisation routes.

About the event

This virtual conference brings together a network of academics, industrialists, clinicians, patients and regulatory body representatives through lively presentations and interactive discussions.

Sessions include:

  • Updates from IKC’s most successful projects
  • Presentations from Versus Arthritis researchers and Patient Insight Partners
  • Interactive panel discussions

The full programme will be announced soon, but registration for this event is open now. Find more details on how to register here.

If you have any questions, please email med-tech@leeds.ac.uk.

Accelerating new treatments: applications for funding around the MSK TRC opening in October

The Musculoskeletal Translational Research Collaboration (MSK TRC) is a partnership between Versus Arthritis and the National Institute for Health Research. The partnership aims for the globally recognised centres of the UK to be at the forefront of musculoskeletal experimental medicine. The collaboration draws on the rich discovery, clinical and translational research landscape of the UK to accelerate new treatments and deliver cutting edge improvements for patients. The new collaboration operates an expansive, flexible, inclusive model. This emanates from and builds on our previous investment in Experimental Arthritis and Osteoarthritis Treatment Centres and NIHR Biomedical Research Centres, whilst welcoming and encompassing wider hubs and collaborators.

To bring momentum to the area, we will fund mechanistic experimental/translational medicine studies in humans across the areas of prevention, diagnosis or treatment that are aimed at priming the next transitional step (the maximum duration of projects funded will be three years).

Collaborative applications should be focused on an unmet need in arthritis, within or across the collaboration’s themes. Studies that tackle related COVID-19 questions are also encouraged.

How to apply:

  • Full applications will open in October 2020
  • Deadline for applications 18th January 2021
  • Applications should be submitted through Grant Tracker
  • For enquiries, please contact Natalie Williams at research@versusarthritis.org.

Further details can be found here.

The need for sustained research into arthritis

Analysis of the UKCRC’s Health Research Analysis Forum (HRAF) data, a cross public and charity sector data collection effort led by MRC once every four years, has revealed:

  • Versus Arthritis became the biggest UK funder in arthritis and related conditions’ research in 2018.
  • UK funding of arthritis research has decreased from 2014 to 2018.
  • The level of funding in arthritis still does not match up to the impact of the disease on quality of life.
  • Funding distribution across different types of arthritis research is unbalanced.

Key findings

While overall funding across all disease areas has increased by 7.3% in the UK from 2014 to 2018, funding for arthritis research has decreased. Total funding allocated to arthritis research has fallen from £92 million (4.5% of total) to £88 million (3.4% of total).

Versus Arthritis contributed 24.4% of all UK arthritis research funding in 2018, more than any other funder joining the data-sharing effort. This is followed by MRC (24.1%) and the Department of Health and social Care (19%).

Arthritis is in the top 5 diseases with the highest burden in the UK according to its Disability-Adjusted Loss of Years (DALY) score, which is the sum of how many years of healthy life arthritis can steal from people due to premature death or disability. In the UK, 11.4% of productive years lost are due to arthritis conditions, however arthritis receives just 3.4% of total health research funding.

An unbalanced funding contribution towards different types of arthritis research remained from 2014 to 2018, where a greater proportion of funding is allocated to research focused on the cause of arthritis, leaving some areas significantly under-funded such as disease prevention (3%), disease management (7%) and health services (3%).

Continuing to push back against arthritis

A recent report from the Institute for Public Policy Research estimates life sciences will remain under-funded for £1.3bn by 2027, while about three out of four medical research charities anticipate a reduced income of 25% or more due to COVID-19.

We’re supporting and contributing to the AMRC’s Life Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund proposal to initiate matched funding from the Government over the next three years so that medical research doesn’t get left behind.

As a leading funder in arthritis research, we will continue to support a broad and balanced research portfolio by raising sustainable funding that reflects the growing burden of arthritis in the years to come.

Read a more detailed analysis of the data in the 'Trends in arthritis and related conditions research' report (PDF, 225 KB).