Research is critically important to find cures and accelerate patient care for the millions who suffer from arthritis and rheumatic disease but over the past decade, research in the area of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) had largely taken place in Europe and other areas where they have a robust registry of patients and government funding to research this debilitating disease. In 2005, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Research and Education Foundation (REF) convened worldwide experts in the field of rheumatology for a RA Scientific Forum in Boston, MA, to mobilize efforts and determine key elements in RA research that would generate the most impact. It was determined that in order to bring the research in the United States up to par with its European counterparts it would take $25-50 million in NIH level grants over the next 5 years. In 2006, the REF set out to accomplish something they had never done before and launched Within Our Reach: Finding a Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis to directly invest in accelerating RA research through a new disease-targeted research grant program comparable to the NIH major grant funding.
A significant goal of the research program was to seek out and fund innovative scientific hypotheses, which may not have necessarily been tested and/or may not have a significant amount of preliminary data. This is a key component to this program as these types of ideas are not generally funded through federal grants at the NIH. In order to support this type of grant review the REF undertook a rigorous and thorough peer review including more than 40 reviewers nationwide, providing scores categories that focus on the quality and innovative nature of the science and potential impact on the field. Within Our Reach investigators represent a variety of scientific disciplines within the United States, including biochemistry, immunology, molecular biology, and genetics, and, thanks to this program, each one is engaged in cutting-edge research on the cause, diagnosis, and treatment of RA. It was a conscious effort on behalf of the foundation to allow all scientific disciplines to apply for these grants and bring their innovative ideas for RA diagnosis, treatment and possible cures. On average 30-50% of grant applications received each year come from investigators who have not done any previous RA research. Twenty-two percent of the funded grants thus far have focused on other organ systems which may have an effect on the scope of this disease. Thus far a total of $24 million dollars has been infused into the scientific community to research RA and boost the RA research enterprise within the United States.
The REF started the campaign more than 5 years ago with a template for a grants program that had the potential of advancing research in RA. Today, due to the dedication of many volunteers along the way, REF has been able to award 54 grants in support of RA research totaling $24 million. Of these 54 investigators, 18 have been awarded an additional $31 million in related NIH grants and NIH funding for arthritis research overall has increased by $87 million.
The American College of Rheumatology was awarded a 2011 Power of A Gold Award for their program.