2012 – 2013 Winter Update


In 2009 and 2010, the Dr. Ira Fine Discovery Fund made an investment in a study exploring the relationship between cholesterol-lowering (statin) drugs and autoimmune diseases. Little did we know that those two modest grants would lead to a major discovery in autoimmune disease interactions.

Investigators had a hunch that, in some cases, patients taking cholesterol lowering statin drugs experienced a rare yet debilitating autoimmune muscle disease called myositis, a condition where a patient’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy muscle tissue.  Researchers began looking for an errant protein, a type of antibody, causing the myositis, which they suspected was being triggered by the statin drug. In what was described as a “Eureka moment”, the offending antibody was found (called HMG CoA), and a great discovery, powered initially by the Dr. Ira T. Fine Discovery Fund, was made. A diagnostic test to screen for this antibody has even been developed.

Return on Investment

Dr. Clifton O. Bingham III, director of the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, has been asking questions and listening to his patients in the Rheumatoid Arthritis clinic at Johns Hopkins for years. He has always known that it’s his patients who define the relevant questions and hold key answers to managing their disease. Patients would tell Dr. Bingham what was working, and what wasn’t, and why, but that valuable information had never been compiled into a useable metric before. Then the Dr. Ira Fine Discovery Fund came along.

In 2011, the Discovery Fund awarded Dr. Bingham a grant to capture valuable patient information, formatted scientifically. He was able to hire a quantitative researcher at the JH School of Public Health, who through the development of patient questionnaires and focus groups, conducted the study, asked questions, compiled the information, created a patient “scorecard”, and found patterns and trends in patient experiences that had never been available before.

It seems that Dr. Bingham had the right idea at the right time. Armed with his Discovery Fund study of patient experiences, he was able to apply for additional funding from the newly created “Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute” (PCORI), established as part of the 2012 Affordable Care Act. He competed for and received one of 50 prestigious initial primary funding grants to continue his research and is now in contention for one other PCORI and two other NIH grants. Dr. Bingham writes that the return on the Discovery Fund’s initial investment has been a whopping 94%. (208% if the other grants are awarded).  For the Dr. Ira Fine Discovery fund, capturing the patient experience turned into a great investment and has profound implications for the understanding and management of rheumatoid arthritis for the future.

New Ideas

This past year marked an exciting new partnership with the Division of Rheumatology at Johns Hopkins in the field of “Precision Medicine,” which refers to the tailoring of medical treatments to the individual characteristics of each patient. Precision medicine allows for highly individualized, focused care where categories of patients afflicted with the same disease, who may react differently to treatments, are identified. Moving forward, our grants will focus on new ways of analyzing the patients own individual information, grouping them into subsets and identifying disease categories, all with the goal of finding and tailoring treatments allowing for better outcomes for patients.