Unique Feet: Life may not be the party we’d hoped for …

Unique Feet: Life may not be the party we’d hoped for …

but while we’re here

we should dance!

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In 2015, in response to an invitation to take part in a charity ball, CRDN took the step to create a small Cambridge based dance group for children with a range of rare conditions as a place where they could express themselves. Little did we know just how powerful this group would become, not only for the young people who take part,  but for the whole family. Human connections really are what makes the world go around and our Unique Feet are leading the way.

Since Oct 2017 we have been supported through funding from the People’s Health Trust and Health Lottery and in 2020 by Healx, local drug repurposing company for rare diseases, to build the group to 10 families. Twelve fabulous children and young people strong, we have branched out into all sorts of fun activities including horse riding, cycling, canoeing, yoga, climbing, trips to the seaside and picnics at National Trust parks. We annually go to the Panto and have family meals out allowing our children safe experiences they can share together, sometimes accompanied by extended family and siblings making for a true family affair. 

We spoke with a CRDN Trustees and Unique Feet members Sue Berry, Alison Omand-Lewis and Tracey Murray to find out more…

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I got involved when Jo Balfour (CRDN Ops Manager) contacted me, knowing my son had a rare genetic condition, with an idea to gather a group of similar children to dance at the SOBI Ball in Cambridge. My son agreed (even though he has huge coordination issues and was the only boy). We became one of the 4 original families involved. The children were all very different but really pulled together with their teachers to shine at their performance in April 2016. The children really got along and enjoyed each other’s company, as did the parents sitting chatting during rehearsals. 

 It’s been great to see the group grow since 2017 when we received grant support.

Both my son and I have found friendship, understanding and non-judgemental support. We have a like-minded group of families that, although all the children have different needs and strengths, understand the challenges that rare conditions can place on a family. Socialising and having others at the end of a phone allows confidence and self-esteem to be built, or we can just have a chat when it is needed. Eric has been able to try new activities and experience new challenges. Unique Feet has also allowed me to be educated and increase my knowledge about rare diseases and the complexity of how others have to deal with them.


My son is more confident and willing to try things that he would never have dreamt of doing. He is sociable within the group, in his own way, and looks forward to the meetups. He attends the Unique Feet ‘You Can Bike too’ sessions at Milton Country Park. Amazingly someone saw the photos on social media and contacted me……… after discussions they agreed to help fund a trike for Eric! We now regularly cycle as a family, something we were never able to do before which has been life-changing for us.


Now I am helping with organising, coordinating and facilitating family activities for Unique Feet both in the school holidays and during term time. These are usually fortnightly, although during rehearsals for performances it can be daily/weekly. There are also occasions when a family might need different support, for EHCP/education matters or general family support and I’m always happy to help out then too.

Alison Omand-Lewis

My daughter Eleanor was one of the first group of dancers that formed Unique Feet. The children were highly anxious at the beginning and we struggled to even get them into the room! However, by the end of the first session, a wonderful warm friendship had begun which has continued to blossom. The group is truly inclusive with everyone really having the opportunity to learn how to express themselves within their own abilities.


The big takeaway from this group, however, is the benefit to the whole family. We found the support from other parents an enormous help, especially during Eleanor’s transition to secondary school where we faced a big battle. Having other parents who had been through a similar process, guide us was invaluable.


It is wonderful to watch our young people forming friendships and supporting each other and being able to benefit from friends who see them for who they are and who don’t see the disabilities in one another.

Tracey Murray

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We got involved with Unique Feet around 18 months ago after Jo contacted me for probably the 10th time. Originally, I didn’t think the group was for us, but Jo is very persuasive, and we decided to come along to take part in the performance for RAREfest18. This is when we realised what else the group was involved with and all the amazing support it has to offer. My daughter Charlotte has really enjoyed the cycling and horse riding, but it has also been a great opportunity to be involved with other families in the local area.


The benefits go much further than just enjoying the dancing and activities, having that opportunity to connect with other mums and dads and boost moral or get advice is brilliant. When you spend a lot of time battling with schools or medical professionals you can run out of energy and the group have this ability to give you the courage to keep going. It gives you time to work through things and form a plan for moving forward.


There is also great sense of humour and banter and it is important to remind each other we aren’t just mums but are also working people, wives and of all the other things we are and to have that perspective so you don’t get caught up in only your child and their condition all of the time.


It is nice to have the regular and local aspect to it. It can be important to find others that have the same conditions to understand the disease more or its progression, but in reality, these families can be widely spread meaning regular interaction isn’t easy to achieve. This group is not about that. We want to be able to meet up regularly and do things with families local to us who understand our family.

Sue Berry

Now that our People’s Health Trust funding has come to an end, we have been organising fundraising activities and applying for new grants and we  will continue to offer activities and days out for the families. As the group has a wide age range, we will be spending time this year finding out what our young people want to achieve and may split the group to allow the older members the opportunity of more independent outings (although an adult will be close by). This could be the theatre/bowling/meals out etc. We feel that this is vital in helping them develop life skills and have the chance to do so in a group they are comfortable with.

More than fun activities and friendship!

Our Unique Feet group has grown to be an impressively empowered group of children, young people and parents. Over the last few years they’ve taken up opportunities to spread the word about rare disease and champion the unmet needs of those affected. Four families have told their story on BBC Look East, three have been featured in the Cambridge Independent newspaper, one appeared on BBC Cambridge Radio at a BBC Children in Need event and others have championed the cause through talking in school assembly and running fundraisers. Mum’s are actively involved in learning and networking by attending our educational events and conferences whilst two have become trustees, one of CRDN and the other of our spin-out organisation the Rare Disease Nurse Network. Allison now co-ordinates the Unique Feet group too. This is community involvement at its best!

Although some of our children are less mature than other teenagers, we are looking at ways that they can experience outings together with a degree of independence. They are such a lovely support for each other and help keep each other out of trouble.

Sue Berry

We also hope to be able to expand our educational programme, spreading the voice of rare disease within schools and the community.

I personally would like to be able to advocate for families who have a rare child, when they are in need of help with schooling/applying for an Education Health Care Plan.

Alison Omand-Lewis

One thing is clear that the benefits of Unique Feet go much further than an opportunity for young people to express themselves though dance. The holistic benefits to the wider family are just as important as is the opportunity for life-long friendships between the young people who take part.
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Bios

Tracey Murray is a trustee and part of the Rare Disease Nurse project. an organisation founded and spun out to independence by CRDN. As a qualified nurse Tracy brings invaluable experience to this project.

Joining the CRDN team as a trustee in July 2019 Sue Berry brings many years of product development for a leading retail brand as her background, supporting the development of our future focus and strategy.

Alison Omand-Lewis is one of the founding members of Unique Feet, now leading the coordination of the group activities. Alison is passionate about supporting families with the challenges of education and health care plans.

RARESummit 2019 – Patients as partners

RARESummit 2019 – Patients as partners

Wellcome Genome Campus hosts CRDN RARESummit 19

PASSION LED US HERE 
A crisp, bright September morning in the calming woodland setting of the Wellcome Genome Campus, Cambridge welcomed a chattering, excited collection of rare disease stakeholders from across the UK and Europe for the long anticipated CRDN RAREsummit19. 

For the team at CRDN, September 23rd was the culmination of a busy year of planning and creating,  a process  driven by a passion to move towards a world  where rare disease is at the top of the mainstream agenda and patient are involved as partners in the many design and development processes which impact on their lives. RARESummit19 brought together patients, patient advocacy groups, researchers, health care professionals, tech and pharmaceutical industries,  all leading the way in pioneering partnerships to accelerate change. This year’s venue, the prestigious Wellcome Genome Campus, was a move from our central Cambridge location and a fitting new venue for RARESummit19. We needed more space to cater for a growing number of  attendees – a 58% increase on our inaugural summit of 2015, a brighter and more welcoming exhibition space to showcase more organisations and companies and better accessibility features which sometimes only a modern setting can bring. Home to some of the world’s foremost institutes and organisations in genomics and computational biology, WGC is committed to delivering life-changing science and we felt was the perfect location to make progress in rare diseases.  

Delegate feedback on this change in location was encouragingly positive “Absolutely superb venue and facilities, plenty of room for exhibitors, delegate interaction in breakout sessions and of course, first class auditorium and AV – so important to clearly hear and see every speaker”. But of course, that doesn’t mean we’ll rest on our laurels and we appreciate the feedback about tweaks we could make within the venue to improve things.

We welcomed a number of returning exhibitors and some who were exhibiting for the very first time. The quality and wealth of information, education and support was outstanding – a real testament to the work being done day in and day out by  passionate stakeholders within the rare disease field.

It’s always a pleasure to see representatives from all stakeholder groups in attendance. Diversity in attendance is vital to the success of collaborative and open discussions. The buzz over lunch was testament to the great networking taking place and audience participation was at its highest ever via our event technology Glisser. 199 people logged in to download slides on their devices, ask questions and respond to polls. An astonishing 155 questions came flooding in and 1227 votes were placed during polls.  Thank you to all who attended and contributed so meaningfully in so many different ways. 

MORNING SESSION: Patients as partners in searching for treatments and cures 

Patient engagement and partnership is crucial in the development of drugs and products for the bio- pharmaceutical industry. There has been a move towards a more patient-centric approach by industry over the last few years to varying degrees of success. During the morning session we wanted to shine a light on those relationships that were leading the way and discuss what the future might hold for rare disease patient collaborations.

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Dr. Jonathan Milner
© CRDN 2019

Opening remarks

 Dr. Jonathan Milner, CRDN Trustee, Abcam founder and biotech entrepreneur opened the summit and set the scene for an “exciting day ahead”. Dr Milner praised the wealth of expertise that had come together in one room and stated, “it is the motivation of making a difference to patients which unites us.” With the enormous rate of scientific progress and patients taking their health care into their own hands it is an exciting time for genomics and Dr Milner impressed on the audience that for CRDN, an important part of their work was to incubate networks to allow for meaningful collaborations.  

Keynote Speaker

Alastair Kent, OBE presented  ‘From the margins to the centre: A personal reflection on progress for rare disease patients and families’, walking us through the history of scientific progress to demonstrate the speed at which science has advanced rapidly over the last 25 years. He highlighted the 100,00-genome project as a “research milestone” and provided this poignant quote by William Harvey to demonstrate how “rare diseases provide key insights into how our bodies work.”

“Nature is nowhere accustomed more openly to display her secret mysteries than in cases where she shows traces of her workings apart from the beaten path; nor is there any way to advance the proper practice of medicine than to give our minds to the discovery of the usual law of nature, by the careful investigation of cases of rarer forms of disease.”  William Harvey.

Rare diseases provide key insights into the way our bodies work.

William Harvey

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Alastair Kent
© CRDN 2019

Panel Discussion
No patient left behind, patient group partnering

Panellists representing a wide range of rare disease patient advocacy groups provided valuable insight into disruptive innovations and the importance of including patient voices at every step of the drug development journey.

Dr Ana Mingorance (CDO Lou Lou Foundation) gave a brilliant visual, accessible whistle-stop tour of the drug development process emphasising the importance of patient groups in this. Charity leaders then shared their successes in working within this process, and the barriers they faced. Carina Thurgood (Co-Founder of Maddi Foundation) battled against the isolation experienced when her daughter was diagnosed with SPG15 and was the only known case in the UK. She has since partnered with a research team at Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience and raised thousands through public appeals and TV appearances to fund their research into a gene therapy. Next steps are to develop a natural history study.

 Allison Watson (Co-Founder of Ring 20 Research) described the challenges she faced finding a large enough cohort when working with an ultra-rare disease. She emphasised the importance of becoming a team player and how the voice of Ring20 has been raised by being involved in the ERN for rare epilepsies and being an EPAG rep. Tanya Collin-Histed (CEO at International Gaucher Disease) inspired the audience with their work ensuring that no Gaucher patient is left behind through their international efforts to support patients across the globe, their international registry development and willingness to embrace wearable health tech to gather much needed data.

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Dr. Paul Wicks
© CRDN 2019
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Dr. Nick Sireau
© CRDN 2019

Moderated Discussion
Disruptive technologies  

Dr Tim Gulliams (Founder of CRDN, and CEO & Co-Founder of Healx), Dr Andy Richards (Digital Health Entrepreneur), Dr David Brown (Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Healx), Elin Haf Davies (CEO at Aparito) and Dr Pete Chan (Head of Research at Raremark).

Here the importance of technology was discussed including how the internet allows patients and science to connect more readily than before and how Google has been an agent for empowerment. Their discussion covered wearable technologies and their role in collecting “real time” real world data and how it is essential to listen to patients and families in order to document real world evidence beyond the consultation room. The panel discussed the pros of using technology to do the “heavy lifting” in data sorting to relieve the current burden from Doctors and nurses and improve outcomes for the rare community.

The Rare Summit was once again a great opportunity for patients, industry, academia and clinicians to come together to hammer out new ways of developing treatments for rare diseases.

Dr. Nick Sireau

CEO and Chair, AKU Society

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Elin Haf Davies
© CRDN 2019

The Google and Genomics are two technologies that have changed the understanding and opportunities available to people living with rare diseases. Moving forward with rapidly changing innovation we need to make sure that just because “we can” doesn’t mean “we should”. Ethics and patients, and not technology should drive what and how we do next.

Elin Haf Davies

Founder and CEO, Aparito

Moderated Discussion
Disruptive Innovation and Transformation – Patients at the heart of the drug development process

Dr Joanna Segieth (Takeda), Professor Chas Bountra (Uni of Oxford), Steve Rees AstraZeneca), Dr Daniel O’Connor (MHRA), Neil Dugdale (SOBI), Thomas Ogorka ( Orphan Reach) and Dr Nick Sireau (AKU Society).

This was a lively debate on the importance of working with patient groups and of open and transparent collaboration and working practises within the pharma industry.

Questions flooded in from delegates for this talk with the most upvoted question being “How do we get regulators, researchers and industry to work together to agree standardised endpoints that can be measured remotely?” followed closely by “Having worked bridging pharma with patients for 25 years, I’ve never seen Pharma behave poorly towards patients but I’ve seen ‘big’ patient orgs reject working with Pharma. Can we eradicate Pharma as the ‘panto villain’ and rewrite the collaboration story?” and “Is it only about the drugs? What about life science companies ‘developing’ health services for people in parallel to drug development?” If you were at the summit, the film of this discussion will be available to you soon to re-listen to the debate and we’ll be circulating some of the many unanswered questions for people to continue the discussion and share ideas.

Through partnerships, we hope that together we can build a better future with medicines that make a real difference to patients.

Dr. Joanna Segieth

Biosynetix Ltd, Rare Drug Development Solutions

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Dr. Joanna Segieth
© CRDN 2019

AFTERNOON SESSION: Patients as co-designers of technology and care 

Shining a light on some of the successful patient partnerships and collaborations that are making improvements in technology design, personalised care and clinical settings which improve accessibility, symptoms and lived experiences.

Short Talk
Co-creating genetic reports that are understood by
non-specialists

Dr Gabriel Recchia (Research Associate, Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, University of Cambridge), Dr Gemma Chandratillake (E & T Lead at the East Midlands & East of England Genomic Laboratory Hub) and Menna Hawkins (Polyposis Nurse Specialist).

This team have been working on a collaborative project with patients to redesign genetic reports and the way they are presented to patients to ensure they are patient friendly, thus allowing greater understanding from patients and families of their own genetic circumstances. 

Gemma asked the audience how useful a genetic report would be to them as a patient – 94% answered reasonably to very important showing a clear need for a more accessible design.

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Menna Hawkins
© CRDN 2019
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RARESummit demonstrated the power of patient-centred approaches [in technology, service-design, research, and drug development] to move things forward for those affected by rare disease

Dr Gemma Chandratillake

Education and Training Lead, East Midlands & East of England Genomic Laboratory Hub

CRDN Trustees, Dr. Sarah Leiter & Dr. Gemma Chandratillake
© CRDN 2019

Short Talk 
Patients as partners in assistive technology design – Collaboration and customisation is the key to success

Dr. Cecily Morrison and Dr. Sarah Leiter presented the result of their collaboration to our audience. Using assistive technology, they have created a new educational computer programming system for tactile learners. It was fascinating to see how Sarah’s lived experience of visual impairment gave the researchers a unique insight into the true needs of end users with low vision. 100% of the audience responded to the live poll asking if they felt end users should be included in the design yet only 34% had actually had that opportunity. Of those who had, 85% had a good experience. Cecily shared the inclusive design principles they use at Microsoft Research – recognise exclusion, solve for one,  extend to many, learn from diversity. 

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Laurence Wollard
© CRDN 2019

Short Talk
“Peer-Led to get ahead!” – Developing an education and self-management programme for and with young people affected by haemophilia

Laurence Woollard delivered a passionate presentation of his journey with haemophilia highlighting the lack of support when transitioning between paediatric and adult services and the challenge of becoming responsible for your own health care at a time of significant physical change. Laurence shared his belief that early intervention with peer led programmes could be the key to tackling this growing problem.

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Baroness Nicola Blackwood at RAREsummit19
© CRDN 2019

What matters to you?
What matters most?
We need a national debate on rare diseases

We were delighted to welcome the UK’s Minister for Innovation in Health, Baroness Nicola Blackwood, a passionate are disease advocate and the minister leading on the ‘National Conversation’ which will gather the views of all stakeholders to set the priorities for the UK Rare Disease Strategy 2020 framework. The Minister delivered a powerful and heartfelt talk drawing on her on experience of the diagnostic odyssey before being diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Baroness Blackwood introduced the Hackathon Challenge, a cross sector team activity brainstorming their priorities for the new Strategy, inviting people to share their views. 

 

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Hackathon teams at RAREsummit19
© CRDN 2019

the RAREsummit hackathon

The final session of the day saw cross-sector teams thrash out ideas on problem areas in rare disease such as diagnosis, care coordination, research acceleration, early access and reimbursement and patient empowerment. Discussions were vibrant ad filled with knowledge and passion  culminating in five winning ideas being pitched to the whole audience. We were impressed with the far-reaching ideas the teams came up with and have gathered all of these, alongside all other suggestions made,  and will be presenting these as a report to the Minster in early December. Watch this space. … . 

 

Networking and Takeaways

As with all our events we see huge value in networking and we hope attendees found plenty of opportunities to  build on  established relationships and that doors were opened to new connections through this event. The rare disease community is a powerful one  and CRDN really felt this during this event.
While it by no means dominated the event the inevitable topic of Brexit rose its head and it was clear to see that this is already impacting our health service with shortages in health care professionals and a reduction in overseas talent both in health care and research applying to work here in the UK. Open collaboration was the call from the day and something patient groups want to see improve across industries.

A huge thank you to all who attended and to our sponsors, speaker and exhibitors! 

CRDN Companies Forum 2020: Connecting the dots

CRDN Companies Forum 2020: Connecting the dots

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Can CRDN’s Companies Forum 2020 connect the dots?

Active stakeholders in the rare disease forum are all too aware of the complex landscape that surrounds the development of treatments for such conditions. From small patient populations and lack of real-world evidence to the NICE Impact model (QALY) and big price tags, taking a drug from compound to the patient still remains an enormous challenge, where 95% of rare diseases currently have no viable treatment, a challenge that significantly burdens patients, families and indeed healthcare budgets.

COMPANIES FORUM: Recognising the Challenges

CRDN, at the heart of Cambridge and its world class life science heritage, recognised this challenge and the opportunities it presents for the charity to create a climate of positive and meaningful collaboration that could become a driving force towards improved outcomes for rare disease drug development.

Our first step in recognising the challenges in patient access to drugs was to identify the drivers for stakeholders.  Science, economic viability and, running through both, measuring improved health outcomes (real-world evidence).

Step two was to bring together a broad range of stakeholders to develop a joined-up approach within the forum for supporting and influencing drug development strategy. To find out more about our Companies Forum we asked CRDN Trustee Dr. Ron Jortner the charity’s Companies Forum lead, to tell us why he feels this initiative is an important part of the Cambridge rare disease eco-system.

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Dr. Ron Jortner, CRDN Trustee and Founder and CEO of Masthead Bioscience

In conversation with Dr Ron jortner, Companies forum lead

What is the main aim of the Companies’ Forum?
“It is only through collaborative effort and stakeholder interaction that treatments and care can be developed for the benefit of those affected by rare diseases. Our mission at CRDN is to create those networks, by bringing together the relevant stakeholders and facilitating these interactions. Companies’ Forum is a special case of that, focused on industry. Its aim is to encourage collaboration between industry leaders and in turn, other stakeholders, with the goal of advancing the development of treatments and care options for rare conditions.”

 

What sort of companies get involved?

“We welcome industry leaders with an interest in making a mark in the rare disease area. Many of our members are companies doing their own R&D; this includes some pharma and biotech companies who specialise in rare disease, as well as other, larger pharma companies for whom rare disease is just one of their focus areas. There are also members involved in drug re-purposing, in home care, and we have recently seen interest from some rare-disease-focussed CROs.  As with all CRDN activities, it is this variety that creates synergies and opportunities for collaboration, which is so essential in the rare disease field. I hope we continue attracting such a variety of companies.”

 

How are COMPANIES FORUM meetings structured?

“Meetings are small, limited to 20 attendees. They typically last half a day, including a networking lunch or dinner. The atmosphere is very relaxed and informal, characterised by open discussion and free exchange of ideas and insights; we follow the Chatham House Rules to encourage this. Each meeting has a high-profile keynote speaker or panel, and attendees get a chance to engage in open discussion with them, workshop-style. As each meeting is small, informal and the atmosphere is intimate, discussions usually go deep.   Attendees have often complimented us on the level of content they get from our meetings.”

 and Tell us more about the next meeting…

“Our next Companies Forum meeting will be held at the Royal Society of Medicine on November 29th. It will focus on collaborative strategies to expedite drug development in rare diseases. The meeting will feature Prof. Chas Bountra, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Innovation at Oxford, and a thought leader on translational medicine, and several patient advocacy group CEOs – Daniel Lewi from CATS Foundation, Tess Harris from PDUK and Allison Watson from Ring20.  We will discuss ideas for expediting and streamlining the development of treatments for rare conditions and how patient groups can help in this – a topic of high interest to everyone involved. We’ll be convening in one of the RSM’s beautiful meeting rooms, and also have a nice lunch during the four-hour meeting.”

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Prof. Chas Bountra, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Innovation at Oxford University Innovation

Do you see this forum affecting change and if so, at what level?

“Absolutely.  Firstly, as I already said, stakeholder interaction is itself a catalyst for progress in developing treatments. For example, a pharma company may already have a molecule in its portfolio which can benefit patients with some rare condition, but the company may not have ever heard of that rare disease. Such case exactly, where a company suddenly became aware of a condition, led to such realisation and now there’s a Phase 2 clinical trial for a drug that could potentially treat the fibrosis element of Alström Syndrome. We can’t even imagine how many such opportunities exist that have not been realised yet. Secondly, our vision for Companies Forum is that it becomes a taskforce, taking on one or more missions in the rare-disease field with members working on them together. Our members have already discussed a collaborative project on identifying unmet needs in patient homecare. We are brainstorming around these ideas just now.”

 

HOw do you like to describe the forum?

“I would describe it as a progressive group of industry leaders from pharma, biotech and healthcare who meet regularly to exchange ideas and do collaborative work on rare-disease projects with patients firmly in mind.”

 

 If you would like to participate in our next Companies Forum visit our website  for more information, and contact Jo Balfour for membership details.

RAREfest18 “heartwarming, uplifting, informative”

RAREfest18 “heartwarming, uplifting, informative”

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Heartwarming, uplifting and informative, RAREfest18, the world’s first-ever festival on rare diseases drew huge crowds to the Guildhall over the weekend of November 30 & December 1.

 RAREfest18 was the first of its kind; a rare disease inspired festival, created and delivered by Cambridge Rare Disease Network, bringing passionate and inspirational people together to change the rare disease landscape for the better.

The event set out to raise awareness, share information and dispel some of the myths about rare diseases and the plight of those living with them. Rare diseases affect around 3.5 million people in the UK. Despite this, rare diseases are not consistently diagnosed, treated or supported, effectively and knowledge amongst health care professionals, educators, social care and the public is limited. The need for a powerful emotive programme was identified; speakers, exhibitors and performers at RAREfest had one goal in mind: change the rare disease landscape. Annual summits and events by CRDN have consistently been milestone events in the rare disease community but bringing a rare disease event to an already invested community has a certain security. This time we wanted to tackle the more challenging issue of public perception of rare disease.

RAREfest was to be our most ambitious event to date!

This year’s unique RAREfest event was created for the public, in part due to the disparity between actual facts and public awareness of rare diseases. For example, while research has shown that only 38% of people think rare diseases have no treatment, in reality this figure is 95%. The aim of the festival was to bring about meaningful and positive change in as many ways as possible for the rare disease community – from raising broader awareness and promoting understanding, to providing practical support. Over two free days, RAREfest provided a stimulating mix of science, technology and the arts, with motivational speakers from academia, industry, the media and all importantly, patient advocates.

The educational programme was enriched with interactive exhibits, demos and film, all public-facing, promoting inclusivity to widely raise the profile of rare disease. CRDN created a platform from which the rare disease community itself was in charge of their own narrative with which to educate and engage a public audience.  Read the glittering review from Cambridge independent newspaper here https://www.cambridgeindependent.co.uk/news/rarefest-brings-life-sciences-to-guildhall-9056317/

Friday night launch event

On the evening of 30th November 2018 over 200 attendees listened attentively as Alastair Kent, OBE, former Chairman of CRDN, opened the world’s first rare disease festival with a poignant observation:

“A few years ago, it would not have been possible to have filled a hall like this (Cambridge Guildhall)”

Attendees were subtly educated whilst being entertained during AbbiBrown’s presentation, Growing up with a Galapagos Tortoise: and other funny stories. Abbi, a founding member of CRDN who, by her own admission left Cambridge University with two degrees and wheelchair, explained what life had been like for her growing up with osteogenesis imperfecta (Brittle Bones) relaying stories of her time as cox for her college rowing team.

Adam Pearson, award winning campaigner, actor and presenter and sculptress Dagmar Bennett talked about the process of creating Adam’s life size bust to raise awareness about Neurofibromatosis, a rare genetic disorder that causes tumours to form on nerve tissue, and to champion face equality.

We are bombarded every day by media images of how we should look, for people with disfigurement it can be absolutely paralysing

Adam Pearson

The audience were captivated by an enchanting dance performance from Unique Feet, CRDN’s local community group of 10 children, each with a different rare disease, and the talented classical musician James Risdon who gave a mesmerising recorder performance. James lives with a rare eye disease, Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, and learns all his repertoire through braille.

The evening ended with an awe-inspiring talk by Michael McGrath who led polar expeditions to both North and South poles to raise awareness of Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative disease which has led to Michael himself being the proud owner of a technical masterpiece of a power chair to enable him to take on such challenges and be as independent as possible. Michael’s work through The Muscle Help Foundation ensures children affected by muscular dystrophy can experience life changing adventures of their own.

The evening was a resounding success, bringing together a diverse public audience mixed with rare disease advocates to walk in the shoes of those living with rare conditions through humour, dance, music and inspiring presentations. Read the Cambridge Independent news coverage of the event here.

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Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 33
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 34
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 35
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 36
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 37
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 38
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 39
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 40
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 41
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 42

Saturday’s Roundup

Saturday saw around 800 curious people weaving their way through the Guildhall to engage with all that RAREfest had to offer. Families with small children, teenagers who’d taken part in the CRDN RAREsolutions design competition, local students, health professionals and business representatives alongside a tribe of rare disease patients and advocates from across the UK.

Nine incredible speakers enthralled audiences. Dan Jeffries told the colourful story of life with not one, but two rare diseases, Acromegaly and Wyburn-Mason Syndrome. Rebecca Pender shared a heart-breaking account of her struggle to persuade medical professionals believe her accounts of her daughter’s illness, a rare chromosome deletion and duplication syndrome called 8p. The Cambridge Independent captured the power of Rebecca’s story here. Dr Crystal Ruff, a scientist from Illumina delivered a fascinating talk on changing the future with stem cells, a TED talk she has had thousands of hits on, Prof Anna Middleton from the Wellcome Genome Campus tackled the ethical considerations of ownership of DNA data playing on the topical story of the announcement only 2 days before of the Chinese scientist who had gene-edited twins. Read more about her talk in this newspaper article here.

Film Festival
Over 25 charities and research organisations entered our very first film festival gathering over 3500 upvotes between them and the highest scoring fourteen being shown on a big screen over the Saturday.

Exhibitors
Twenty-two interactive exhibits took over the Guildhall bringing rare disease inspired cool technology, arts and science to the public. With demos of robots and technology, fun science experiments, sculpture exhibits and rare disease charities showcasing some of the amazing work they do, the diverse audience was treated to a packed day of hands on activities to help educate and inspire.

Networking
There were many opportunities throughout both events to network with peers. The post RAREfest VIP reception drew together eighty leaders from science, healthcare, technology, business, charity and philanthropy to network with exhibitors, speakers and the CRDN team. Dame Mary Archer, a fierce advocate for a Cambridge Children’s Hospital, Julian Rayner, Director of the Wellcome Genome Campus and Daniel Zeichner our Cambridge MP attended, to name a few.

So how did we do?
After the dust has settled and we are now and truly well into the count down for RAREsummit we wanted to look back and digest the impact of our very first public facing event. 

 

Here are some stats from RAREfest 2018

RAREfest in Numbers

  • Four new industry partners joined our Companies Forum for biotech, pharmaceutical and related industry partners
  • 25% increase in Twitter followers
  • 8000 people reached via Facebook event
  • 11 newspaper and magazine feature articles
  • 1 TV feature
  • 1 Radio Feature

The event was absolutely fantastic. It was obvious how much hard work had gone into it and gaining the balance between industry and public interest must have been a tough navigation, which was pulled off unbelievably well.

Steve Smith

Head of Rare Diseases & Gene Therapy

Lots of people we’ve spoken to today are passers-by. They’re out doing their Christmas shopping. That’s wonderful because it means the topic is broadening out to the wider community.

Harriet Gridley

Head of business development UK at No Isolation

Atarim

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