Biobank a game changer for rheumatology in Australia

Precision medicine in rheumatology is set to become a reality with the launch of a vast biobank network that will bring together genomics and clinical data from rheumatology patients across Australia.

The Australian Arthritis and Autoimmune Biobank Collaborative (A3BC) will gather data from patients that will help unlock some of the mystery surrounding the genomic and environmental risk factors in rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and vasculitis.

Once the network is established, other diseases such as ankylosing spondylitis, Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma and osteoarthritis will be added into the mix.

Speaking to the limbic, co-founders rheumatologist Professor Lyn March and paediatric rheumatologist Associate Professor Jane Munro said that the most exciting and innovative thing about the A3BC will be the power of its large-scale data linkage and big data modelling.

“We’re going to have genetic, biological, demographic, and clinical information that will one day be able to tell us how well someone might respond to methotrexate or a particular biologic or even their chances of remission,” said Professor Munro.

“A lot of biobanks around the world are not following kids and adults together as comprehensively as this,” she said.

The idea for the A3BC was first discussed in earnest when ANZ CLARITY study members met to discuss how to roll out the Melbourne based JIA biobank project nationally.

Somewhat serendipitously, Professor Lyn March had just been approached by philanthropists who wanted to support rheumatology research and were interested in helping fund a national biobank project.

This is where the A3BC biobank began to take on an exciting life of its own.

The steering committee are currently working to make sure they have the protocol and the science right before they start implementing the project across major Australian cities and sites.

They are also exploring matched funding possibilities with the Commonwealth Department of Health and a range of research institutions and industry entities.

“One challenge is that we secure enough funding so that we can deliver a curated resource that’s both sustainable and regularly accessed,” Professor Munro said.

According to Professor Munro, a crucial key to the ongoing success of the biobank is open collaboration between research institutions, industry, and busy clinical rheumatologists – both public and private.

“We need to make sure the governance and the way we approach collaboration is open, generous, and responsive to people,” she said.

Participating in the A3BC will offer different things to different people, explained Professor Munro.

For example, smaller clinics would have greater access to a linked suite of health (MBS, PBS), clinical (EMR), and patient-reported outcomes to better measure their patient outcomes against other clinics.

Whereas bigger entities will be able to gain access to biobank resources and datasets across Australia, not just in their local area.

“Rheumatology in Australia will benefit from having a holistic and collaborative approach,” said  Professor Munro.

“Another big motivation for the biobank is the advocacy it brings for rheumatology and related research, future training and infrastructure capacity building in both precision and preventive medicine,” said Professor March.

“We don’t get a lot of research funding… and we should because Australia punches above its weight internationally in terms of the quality of research, yet fewer and fewer supporters are looking at it as a priority,” she said.

“This project will play a huge role in helping build capability and capacity for the future, and most importantly offers a new, innovative way to enable research discoveries,” she added.

For more information on the biobank or email [email protected]

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