Monash research contributing to personalised medicine for immune disease

Professor Richard Kitching

Professor Richard Kitching

The development of individualised treatments for autoimmune diseases to improve the quality of life for patients is the aim of a new international research collaboration, including Monash University.

RElapse PrevENTion in autoimmune diseases, known as RELENT, is a multidisciplinary group of scientists, doctors and commercial partners from Europe. The consortium of nine scientific and four commercial partners has been funded by a 6.5 million Euro grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program and is coordinated by Professor Renate Kain, Medical University of Vienna. There is one investigator each from the US and Australia.

Professor Richard Kitching, Director of the Centre for Inflammatory Disease, School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health, Monash University is a principal investigator and only Australian member of the RELENT program collaboration.

“More than five per cent of the Australian population will develop an autoimmune disease in their lifetime, often associated with significant morbidity, mortality and economic cost,” said Professor Kitching.

“Autoimmune diseases can affect many parts of the body, including the small blood vessels in the kidneys critical to their function. In some people this results in both permanent kidney failure and damage to other organs.”

Severe autoimmune and inflammatory diseases currently need to be treated with long-term immunosuppressive drugs that have significant side effects. Despite this, the outcome for individual patients varies considerably, with some people having difficult to treat disease with multiple relapses, whilst others have much less persistent disease.

“Currently, it is rarely possible to tailor immunosuppressive therapy to the individual needs of patients, as we can’t usually predict who will respond well and who will not in advance,” said Professor Kitching.

“While this can be frustrating for clinicians, it often has a huge impact on the lives of people with these diseases. We really need to understand these diseases better to be able to adapt treatments for each individual person.”

Professor Kitching said that by closing the knowledge gap in mechanisms of disease, the RELENT program will provide the scientific underpinning for more individualised, safer and more effective management for people with severe autoimmune and inflammatory disease.

"We currently have no means of distinguishing from the outset which patients will suffer from frequent relapses of their disease—and therefore need intensive early treatment—from those who will not,” said Professor Kain.  

“Personalising treatment according to the disease subtype and stage is already a concept established in cancer treatment.”

“By combining clinical and serological data with genetic and transcriptomic signatures to unravel the molecular mechanisms that determine disease outcome, we will be able to develop customised health care for people suffering from autoimmune disorders," added Professor Kain.

The specific expertise of Professor Kitching’s research group is not available elsewhere in the world, and is the reason for Monash University’s inclusion in RELENT’s ambitious work program. Monash University’s contribution is critical to the success of the RELENT program.

“The expertise of Monash’s team will help us know what actually happens in autoimmune disease, so that we can better customise treatments for each individual,” said Professor Kitching.