February 2021 research newsletter


In this first newsletter of 2021, and my first as the new Director of Research, I wanted to start by acknowledging the sheer resilience and determination that you all have demonstrated by continuing your research endeavors at pace despite another – hopefully last – lockdown and whilst juggling the joys and tribulations of managing it alongside family and caring needs.

I must also thank the wonderful staff and colleagues here at Versus Arthritis for working equally hard to ensure that we support you and the research agenda in our own way – be it supporting new and exciting partnerships in Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), bringing together the world's largest group of children and young people involved in JIA research or extending the clinical research fellowships deadline to ensure we enable the best research and researchers to come through.

In January, when I took over the very strong and vibrant portfolio that Stephen Simpson and the team had built over the last eight years, we both spoke to you of our vision and aspirations for MSK research and how Versus Arthritis can play a pivotal part in achieving it – empowering both those who do research and those who benefit from it. Our forthcoming Research Strategy will hopefully speak to this and I would very much like to speak to as many of you as possible - to hear your views on where and how we can make a difference.

It is only by enabling diverse perspectives and views to come forward that we create something strong, rich and diverse – be it our next Research Strategy or ourselves as an organisation. Therefore, I am delighted that in my first newsletter I can highlight where we have taken steps to enable greater access, inclusion and openness via our work with AMRC on open access and also our own through reflection of how we continue to be organisation that is true to its commitment towards diversity and equality in its true sense.

Happy reading.

Announcing our new Director of Research

After eight fruitful years, Dr Stephen Simpson left 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, including championing pain research and patient involvement.

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. Prior to that Neha headed the Population health and Systems Medicine portfolio at the UKRI’s Medical Research Council (MRC) and oversaw the MSK portfolio as part of that.

Read more about Stephen’s time at the charity, and Neha's appointment.

On 27 January, Versus Arthritis hosted a webinar to wave goodbye to Dr Stephen Simpson, and welcome our new Director of Research Dr Neha Issar-Brown.

If you missed it, you can catch up by watching the video on our website. This includes a personal reflection from Stephen on what has been achieved under his tenure, as well as an introduction from Neha on her background and what attracted her to the role at Versus Arthritis.

Update following the Serious Incident Report at Versus Arthritis

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.

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

Read more about the findings and our plans to address them.

Latest developments and activities

The UK JIA Biologics Register

We’re delighted to announce a new partnership with the British Society for Rheumatology (BSR) to fund the UK JIA (Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis) Biologics Register.

Versus Arthritis and the BSR were already carrying out independent studies (The Biologics for Children with Rheumatic Diseases (BCRD) study funded by Versus Arthritis, and the Etanercept study (BSPAR ETN) funded by the BSR) at hospitals throughout the UK to look at the safety and effectiveness of biologic and biosimilar treatment for JIA.

This new partnership will bring these two studies together as the UK JIA Biologics Register, which will be the world's largest group of children and young people involved in research about JIA.

Read more about this new partnership, including what has already been achieved, but also including a look to the future.

We’ve joined the Association for Medical Research Charities (AMRC) Open Research platform

AMRC Open Research is an open access publishing platform for both researchers and charity staff. Currently 37 charities are signed up. Powered by F1000 it has been designed to give researchers increased control over the publishing process and provides an accessible home for all research outputs, going beyond the journal article. Its points of difference over standard journal open access publishing are speed, low cost and open peer review.

Do please consider this platform when you come to publishing. Whilst we currently have funds to pay for open access publishing, we will not be able to sustain current levels of investment long term given the high cost levied by some publishers. Our Open Access policy asks researchers to consider all options for publishing to allow us to maximise the impact of our research, funded by public donations. We plan to review our approach to open access this coming year and we will ask you to engage with this work.

Please note that for a limited time, research funded by Versus Arthritis can be published for free on the platform. You might want to use it initially for outputs other than your main article. The platform welcomes a wide range of material.

To find out more or to discuss your publishing ideas, you can contact your research awards team, or visit the AMRC Open Research website.

Clinical Research Fellowship deadline extended

The deadline for our Clinical Research Fellowship call has been extended, from 10 February 2021 to 3 March 2021.

A full list of current opportunities and deadlines can be found below.

Celebrating your work

We’d love to highlight your work and share a bit about you on our social media channels. We know that our supporters want to learn more about our amazing research, and the people behind it!

If you’d like to feature on our social media channels, please send our Social Media Team a picture of you and 200 words including:

  • A bit about you – who you are, why you became a researcher, what motivates you.
  • A bit about your research – what it is, how it affects people with arthritis.
  • Your social media account names (if you’d like to be tagged).

Please do include anything you think our supporters might find interesting. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Social Media Team: socialmedia@versusarthritis.org. *To note: for Twitter the full post may be shortened*

Many of you will be preparing your submissions for the upcoming REF 2021 submission at the end of March. We love to show how research can make an impact for the lives of people with arthritis, so please share your stories with us!

Upcoming opportunities and deadlines

We’d love to hear from you

If you have any feedback regarding our newsletter, or have any questions please email researcherengagement@versusarthritis.