Our plans for 2020/21

A message from the Director of Research, Stephen Simpson


The scale and burden of arthritis is growing, yet, because so many of us are sufferers and the range of arthritis is so broad, it passes as normal. So people with arthritis are not universally benefiting from treatments and therapies that already exist and there is insufficient priority attached to new research into musculoskeletal diseases. 

Versus Arthritis is correcting this by raising awareness of current therapies and growing the volume of research. From our past successes, we know research can deliver effective outcomes for people with arthritis. However, MSK research is currently not being prioritised, and is not being translated fast enough into new treatments, support and solutions. We believe there is a clear and urgent need for a new approach to MSK research if the millions of people living with arthritis today and in the future are to have a better quality of life.

Leading the change

At Versus Arthritis, we bring together people with arthritis, researchers, clinicians and therapists to bring about greater awareness, greater availability of therapies and above all fund and promote patient focussed research. We believe we can have a greater impact by playing a broader galvanising role; one that includes funding but also draws much more on our front-line insight and influencing capabilities. Building on the changes we have already made, over the coming years we will:

  • Fund: Continue to fund MSK research directly. It remains the charity’s biggest current investment area.
  • Influence: Catalyse greater collaboration and partnership funding by increasing recognition of MSK conditions and influencing others to prioritise and fund MSK research, translation and implementation.
  • Inspire: Inspiring talent, building teams, developing leaders and supporting careers in MSK research.

Our near-term research priorities

Our direct investment from next year will provide a developing framework for new funding to support, influence and grow a range of research and innovation opportunities in the UK. We will be striving to make our funding work as effectively as possible, helping us towards our ambitions for MSK research in the UK. This is evolving, but in the coming years you can expect us to use our resources to:

  • Building consortia and collaborations: Leading national, coordinated strategies and approaches towards better understanding of the causes of, treatments and interventions for MSK diseases.
    • In pain: we have secured large-scale investment with the UK Government on chronic pain, through a new Advanced Pain Discovery Platform, and are working on further investments to accelerate new treatments and non-biomedical approaches to managing chronic pain.
    • In translational medicine: Investing in a UK-wide partnership in translational and experimental musculoskeletal medicine with NIHR and other funders.
  • Future leaders and talent: Investing in and supporting teams, talent and future leaders in MSK research.
  • Funding new research: Supporting other new areas of research, including dedicated funding for those working to establish themselves and building a research funding portfolio.

Like all charities, our funds are not infinite. With the end of the anti-TNF patent we have for some time been identifying new revenue streams. We have also been working with Trustees to use some of our financial reserves to help deliver the Versus Arthritis ambitions. But we face a new financial reality. We are putting our resources and money to work across our organisational priorities of research, action and care to ensure we have the greatest possible impact for people with arthritis.

What this means for research funding 2020/21

  • In the coming year, we will invest £13 million of new direct funds into new research, which will contribute to our vibrant £132 million portfolio of active research.
  • While a significant investment, this does represent a reduction of about 40% in the new in-year research investment by the charity, as compared to our average over the past decade.
  • As part of our new focus, we will not be running routine Challenge calls every six months and we are reviewing and evaluating our subcommittee structure to support our new approach.

We know that systemic change will take time and there is a need for consistency and clarity from the charity as you plan your research. But we believe that together, we can transform MSK research so it has a far greater impact on the millions of people living with MSK conditions.