RAREsummit21: Spotlight on how we can create positive industry and patient group partnerships

RAREsummit21: Spotlight on how we can create positive industry and patient group partnerships

Spotlight on how we can create positive industry and patient group partnerships

RAREsummit21 logo for website menu only

On 7th October 2021, we’re holding our 5th RAREsummit – CRDN’s flagship event – bringing together more than 300 great minds in rare diseases to make connections, exchange ideas and openly debate possibilities.

One of the key areas we’ll be exploring is how far patient group and industry relationships have come over the last five years – and why collaboration between the two is so vital when it comes to driving forward progress in rare diseases. Through a mixture of talks, panel discussions, fireside chats, workshops and Q&As, we’ll be sharing some inspirational examples of how advocacy groups and companies have been working together to achieve fantastic results.

Advocacy groups for rare diseases have become more than voices; they are an essential source of transformational therapeutic advances. Increasingly patient groups want to be involved in the drug development and tech solution process earlier and more often. From bringing their expert patient or caregiver insights to clinical trial design to ensuring acceptable protocols and helping to raise awareness of ongoing clinical trials, or mounting viral disease awareness efforts that help to condition the markets, today’s patients are increasingly empowered and savvy – and they offer a powerful voice.

With the rise of social sharing online, traditional boundaries are evaporating. Companies are now actively listening and engaging with patients from the outset – and are working out how to make sure these collaborations are as impactful and effective as they can possibly be.

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREsummit21: Spotlight on how we can create positive industry and patient group partnerships 1
photo of Alex Lloyd
Image: Alex Lloyd from Eastern AHSN

Collaborating to find innovative solutions

One of the organisations we’ve partnered with for RAREsummit21 is Eastern AHSN (Academic Health Science Network). At last year’s RAREfest, they asked people living with rare conditions what their biggest everyday challenges were. Our community spoke and we listened. The innovation community has responded with tech and digital solutions to help with care coordination, wellbeing and mental fatigue – or ensuring health information is done well. At RAREfest21, we will get the opportunity to hear five of the best solutions presented live. Innovators will but put through their paces in a dragon’s den style session by judges Lou Jopling – Commercial Director at EAHSN, rare disease policy expert Alastair Kent, Sean Richardson the General Manager of Alexion Astra Zeneca, founder of Timothy Syndrome Alliance – Sophie Muir and CRDN’s Chair, Dr Gemma Chandratillake. It is set to be a riveting session!

Alex Lloyd, Principal Advisor and Commercial Delivery Lead for Eastern AHSN, told us:

“We work with so many incredible innovators whose great ideas have come from a variety of sources. Often an idea comes from clinicians who have spotted an unmet need, or a technical expert who understands how technology can be applied in different ways to help different patient groups. Some of the best ideas, however, come from the lived experiences of patients and their families.

The first step in alleviating a problem is understanding it, and who knows the impact of a rare disease better than somebody living with one? That’s why we’ve collaborated with the CRDN to engage with the rare disease community to really listen and understand the issues they face daily. We found that one of the biggest challenges was access to clear, reliable health information about rare diseases, whilst many struggled with disjointed care. Another common theme was the impact a rare disease can have on an individual’s wellbeing, with many people suffering from mental fatigue.

By gathering these insights, finding common themes and developing them into challenges, we’re able to work with innovators to find solutions that have a real impact in improving the lives of people with rare diseases and their families. We hope to demonstrate the value of starting with listening to the community, empowering them to shape healthcare services to provide real benefits for people with rare diseases.

At RAREsummit21, we are giving the five most promising innovations a unique opportunity to pitch their idea in front of a live audience and gain valuable feedback whilst creating connections to help them take the next steps in their innovation journey to deliver impact.

We believe that citizens, academia, health services and industry will achieve so much more working together than they will in isolation and we’re excited and honoured to be involved in RAREsummit21.”

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREsummit21: Spotlight on how we can create positive industry and patient group partnerships 2

AMPLIFYING patients’ voices 

At RAREsummit21, we’ll also be hearing inspiring examples of how patient groups are making their voices heard. We’ve been collaborating on a brilliant project with Prime Global to help patient groups develop impactful posters and pitches for the gallery on our virtual platform.  The passionate Emma Sutcliffe from Medical Communications agency Prime Global will be running a session that shares the work they’ve undertaken with these groups and and why it’s essential to amplify the patient voice through these Patient Voice Publications.

Amy Sharples from Prime Global told us: “Patient Voice Publications tell the patient story – from real world experience and burden of disease to hopes for the future. They are stories told by patients for pharma, to focus on what matters. Ultimately, this leads to the triple win – better outcomes for patients, for pharma, and for society.”

At the session, you will hear how these publications are having a real-life impact for patient groups, as Jess Duggan – mum to a child with SYNGAP1-related NSID (non-syndromic intellectual disability) explains: “Taking our story to pharma via Patient Voice Publications helps us raise awareness and highlight what’s vitally needed so that we can work together to deliver better support, diagnosis, treatment, outcomes, and hope, for patients and their families.”

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREsummit21: Spotlight on how we can create positive industry and patient group partnerships 3
photo of Sophie Muir
Image: Sophie Muir Chair of the Timothy Syndrome Alliance 

Can serendipity catalyse better collaborations between patient groups and INDUSTRY?

Is serendipity is enough when it comes to developing impactful collaborations between patient advocacy groups and industry? Can systematically linking stakeholders in the right setting help to catalyse better collaborations?

To test this hypothesis, CRDN recently ran a partnering event through their Companies Forum between rare disease patient groups and companies.  Sophie Muir, Chair of Trustees from the Timothy Syndrome Alliance took part and said “There are many overlaps with rare diseases. Bringing stakeholders together to share experiences increases opportunities of contacts and knowledge for both patient groups and industry.” 

At RAREsummit21 we’ll be showing a short film on demand, the story of an ultra rare epilepsy patient group, Ring20 Research and Support, and their collaboration with sequencing specialists Illumina.  Ring20’s CEO Allison Watson gave a moving talk to attendees at CRDN’s RAREsummit in 2019, a talk which challenged industry to help unravel the diagnostic odyssey for their children. This call to action led to a serendipitous meeting with a representative from Illumina over lunch, and from there the collaborative UNRAVEL project was born.  Allison said:

“We’ve started an internal scientific collaboration, which has evolved from discussions with companies following your CRDN RAREsummit last year and also involves another company following CRDN’s invite for me to present at your Companies Forum – so your events have a HUGE amount of value to us!”

We’re big believers in the power of our network to connect the right people and give patient groups the platforms  they need to  tell their stories to the right people in the right way. 

Collaborating, listening and educating effectively with patient groups

Last but very much not least, we’re honoured to welcome a panel of speakers hosted by Naomi Litchfield, patient advocacy lead at Bionical EMAS, to explore Early Access Programs: collaborating, listening and educating effectively with patient groups.

Naomi will be joined by Christine McCracken of Head, Patient Strategies & Solutions, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson and Johnson and Alix Hall, Managing Director of the Isaac Foundation in Canada to discuss best practices for meaningful patient engagement with pharma and patient groups, drawing on the example of an Expanded Access Guide created for patients as a resource to support understanding on expanded/early access in each individual country. The guide was put together through strong collaboration between pharma and patient groups in response to patient and family requests for a resource on this topic. Naomi told us:

“Partnerships between pharma and patient groups are so vital for many reasons that I am extremely passionate about. Listening and engaging with patients in order to achieve positive, mutually beneficial relationships is a fundamental part of rare drug development. Drug development for patients must be with patients – incorporating all their unique experiences and perspectives.

 RAREsummit is a wonderful platform to listen, learn and engage with the rare disease community. We can learn a lot from listening to each other’s experiences and perspectives, I am most looking forward to hearing the rare community’s stories and their thoughts on positive pharma and patients partnering.”

Do come and join us at RAREsummit21 on 7th October 2021 to hear from Alex, Amy, Sophie, Naomi and 300 of the greatest minds in rare disease. All summit content – talks, exhibits and gallery are available for 30 days following  to ticket holders. 

Bionical EMAS Naomi Litchfield presenting
Image: Naomi Litchfield Bionical Emas 
Bionical EMAS Naomi Litchfield presenting
Image: Naomi Litchfield Bionical Emas 

Collaborating, listening and educating effectively with patient groups

Last but very much not least, we’re honoured to welcome a panel of speakers hosted by Naomi Litchfield, patient advocacy lead at Bionical EMAS, to explore Early Access Programs: collaborating, listening and educating effectively with patient groups.

Naomi will be joined by Christine McCracken of Head, Patient Strategies & Solutions, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson and Johnson and Alix Hall, Managing Director of the Isaac Foundation in Canada to discuss best practices for meaningful patient engagement with pharma and patient groups, drawing on the example of an Expanded Access Guide created for patients as a resource to support understanding on expanded/early access in each individual country. The guide was put together through strong collaboration between pharma and patient groups in response to patient and family requests for a resource on this topic. Naomi told us:

“Partnerships between pharma and patient groups are so vital for many reasons that I am extremely passionate about. Listening and engaging with patients in order to achieve positive, mutually beneficial relationships is a fundamental part of rare drug development. Drug development for patients must be with patients – incorporating all their unique experiences and perspectives.

 RAREsummit is a wonderful platform to listen, learn and engage with the rare disease community. We can learn a lot from listening to each other’s experiences and perspectives, I am most looking forward to hearing the rare community’s stories and their thoughts on positive pharma and patients partnering.”

Do come and join us at RAREsummit21 on 7th October 2021 to hear from Alex, Amy, Sophie, Naomi and 300 of the greatest minds in rare disease. All summit content – talks, exhibits and gallery are available for 30 days following  to ticket holders. 

Beyond the Diagnosis: A specially curated exhibition of portraits for the RAREsummit21 gallery

Beyond the Diagnosis: A specially curated exhibition of portraits for the RAREsummit21 gallery

Seeing Beyond the Diagnosis: a virtual exhibition that puts a face to rare diseases

When Patricia Weltin first put a call out for artists to paint portraits of children with rare diseases to share with the medical community, she had no idea how quickly the project would grow into a ground-breaking exhibition involving more than 70 artists and 135 children around the globe.

Beyond the Diagnosis first came to life five years ago when Patricia invited a handful of local artists and friends from the rare disease community in Rhode Island, USA to take part in a project that would encourage the medical community to look “beyond the diagnosis” to patients behind the disease.

Five years on, she has gathered portraits from artists and children with rare diseases living as far afield as Bali and Chile – and the artwork they have created together has touched the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of people at medical schools, hospitals, medical conferences and beyond.

Now Patricia is bringing a virtual gallery of these poignant portraits to the Cambridge Rare Disease Network’s RAREsummit21 on 7 October 2021. And it’s Patricia’s goal to make sure many thousands more people see this thought-provoking exhibition too.

Beyond the diagnosis logo for highlights page

We want to make people see our humanity, this is somebody’s child, brother, sister, grandchild, niece, nephew, friend. They’re just like other children.

Patricia Weltin

Hunter was diagnosed with Russell-Silver Syndrome, which is a growth disorder characterised by slow growth before and after birth. His portrait was painted by Rhode Island-based artist Dan Lake.

Hunter’s mother Tiffany said: “He is a happy, fearless child. He is a proud big and little brother who loves animals and has accepted that he is ‘different’ than the rest of the world and takes pride in who he is. He is full of life and is always in a good mood.”

Read more…

“People see the names of the disease and think it’s terrifying,” she adds. “They can’t engage with it, but they can engage with these kids through the artwork. We have so many artists using so many different styles and each portrait is a little gasp.”

A project from the heart to the heart

Patricia’s inspiration from Beyond the Diagnosis came from her own experience as the parent of two daughters who have a rare disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. It took 18 years for her eldest daughter, now 25, to receive a diagnosis and to receive the treatment she needed, including brain surgery.

Hunter portrait Beyond the Diagnosis

“I was interested in my connection to the doctors and how we could have them see us instead of seeing a complicated disease,” explains Patricia. “They needed to see that we were people and I think that is lost in medical school.”

“You can’t teach 7,000 rare diseases, so you have to be innovative and think about ways to engage medical students before they become doctors with the reality of what’s out there” she adds.

Medical students are often taught that, when they hear hoofbeats, they should think about horses, not zebras, explains Patricia – in other words, they should think about common diseases in the first instance.

Amber Beyond the Diagnosis Blog

Amber was diagnosed with Giant Axonal Neuropathy at the age of 5 when she started to have problems walking. Her portrait was painted by Venezuelan artist, Jota Leal.

Amber’s dad Miguel said: “Amber is the strongest girl I know. We call her Super Girl!”

Read more…

“We want them to consider it might be a rare disease,” she says “We want them to think the hoof beats might be zebras!”

It was when Beyond the Diagnosis exhibited 35 portraits at Harvard Medical School that people started to take notice of the project. There was national and online media coverage. And when a producer called from the TV network CBS one Sunday morning, Patricia was completely taken aback.

“We had 7 million people learning about rare diseases,” she says “I believe it was the first time on a major US TV network that they talked about rare diseases as a whole and our unmet needs. The whole rare disease community was so excited and that just opened the floodgates. We had people contacting us from all over the world.”

Within a few years, Beyond the Diagnosis had 130 portraits representing different rare diseases touring each year to prestigious venues like the Food and Drink Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

All of the artists give their time freely and many of them become very close to the families of the children they are painting – and go on to paint portraits for other families and children too.

“I always say it’s a project from the heart for the heart,” says Patricia. “I think that the connection and gift that the artists are giving is apparent in all of the work that you see.”

“This is someone doing their absolute best to capture these children – all of the work except one is done from photos. We give the artists all the information we can – we ask the parent to write about the child. So the artists are not just looking at a picture – they’re getting to know each child.”

The project was about to go global when the pandemic hit. So Patricia decided to take Beyond the Diagnosis online. The first virtual tour was seen by thousands of people in 23 different countries.

“I hate everything about Covid, but one of the bright spots is that we’ve found a way to reach people who wouldn’t have had the chance to see a live exhibit in a way that’s very calming and beautiful,” says Patricia. “It’s so beautifully done. You’ll see the portrait and you can click on a picture and it tells you about the disease, the child and the artist. You can sit and take your time and do it at your own pace.”

You will have a chance to see a specially tailored exhibition at the Cambridge Rare Disease Network’s RAREsummit21 on 7 October 2021. Sign up for your Vibrant Vital Virtual RAREsummit21 tickets for a chance to see the latest Beyond the Diagnosis Virtual Tour here…

For us, every day is Rare Disease Day. It’s the most difficult life imaginable. It doesn’t end for us. But we really want to share these beautiful kids from all over the world with the people who need to see them – it’s just so humbling. It refocuses your purposes on what’s important in life.

Patricia Weltin

Every Cookie is Hope

Every Cookie is Hope

Every cookie is hope

Ten-year-old Dana from Boulder, Colorado, is no ordinary kid. In fact, she’s done something extraordinary in the quest to find treatments for rare diseases. What started out as a fundraiser to help her friend Mila has now turned into a lucrative non-profit cookie enterprise where every batch equals much needed cash for cures. At RAREfest20, Dana will lead a cookie decorating workshop and answer your questions. She hopes you’ll be inspired to get baking, too!

RAREfest saturday speaker Giles Yeo

How did Cookies for Cures start?
It started when I was 7. At speech therapy I made this amazing friend called Mila. She was really nice and really bubbly. We’d just talk and play together. When I found out she was sick with a rare and fatal disease called Batten, I just had to help her. Me and my mom came up with the idea to sells cookies. That’s how it started. We called it Cookies4Mila. The next year we decided to set up a non-profit called Cookies4Cures. So far, we’ve baked about 17,000 cookies and raised over $100,000. Each cookie is hope.

Why cookies?
Well, I’d never baked before, but I loved eating cookies. Originally, I thought I’d sell cold lemonade but that wouldn’t really work in the winter. We were planning to raise money all year round. Cookies were perfect, because you can eat cookies in the summer, in the winter, when it’s hot, when it’s cold. Who doesn’t love cookies?!

What’s been the response?
Surprisingly, a lot of people say they could never do what I’m doing, but I don’t think that’s true. We can all make a difference. You just need to start!

This is about raising money, but also awareness. Do you think you’re making a difference?
I’m not that well known, but I know I’ve made a difference to Mila’s life. We raised around $50,000 to pay for treatment and that prolonged her life.

How has Mila’s rare disease impacted on her?
She’s a completely different person to how she was when I met her. She can’t see, she can’t talk, she can’t walk, she can’t do so many of the things that she used to be able to do. It’s really tough.

What have you learnt as a result of your work over the last 3 years?

I have two other friends with rare diseases, Ollie and Ben. I’m not sure I’d know about rare diseases if some of my friends hadn’t got them. It’s made me realise that, as a whole, rare diseases aren’t that rare. Doing Cookies4Cures has made me less afraid to speak up and help my friends.

Who is your hero and why?
Greta Thunberg. She spoke up for what she believed was right and she doesn’t let anyone stop her!

Where’s your favourite place in the world and why?
I’m not entirely sure. Probably eating cookies! Mum has a rule on that we can’t eat any cookies until after a bake sale is done.

What is your greatest achievement?
Prolonging Mila’s life. That feels like the most important thing that ever happened. It let me enjoy more time with her.

What is your hope for rare disease?
I hope that one day there’s a treatment for every single rare disease, so no one has to suffer, or watch their friends die or get so sick that they can no longer recognise them.

Dana Perella Cookies for Cures
Dana Perella Cookies for PANS

A Puff of Smoke at RAREfest20: A comic book on being undiagnosed

A Puff of Smoke at RAREfest20: A comic book on being undiagnosed

Sarah Lippett will be talking about her book “Puff of Smoke” at RAREfest20

““Too often you’re seen as a number, rather than a human being. That needs
to change.” –
Sarah Lippett, Artist, Illustrator, Author and owner of two rare diseases

RAREfest saturday speaker Giles Yeo
If you are a young person on your diagnostic journey or you’ve travelled that path yourself or with a loved one, then you’ll want to check in with RAREfest20 exhibitor, Sarah Lippett. Why? Because Sarah, who has two rare diseases, knows better than anyone the impact of ‘not knowing’ and the frustration of misdiagnosis.

Sarah’s comic book memoir  ‘Puff of Smoke’ is all about the isolation of being undiagnosed. Her journey lasted from the age of seven to eighteen, a young lifetime of lengthy spells in hospital, lost friendships and missed opportunities. As an author and illustrator, Sarah wanted to create something that would give hope to young people on their diagnosis journeys – and raise awareness within medical circles.

Visit Sarah’s Crayonlegs exhibit at RAREfest20 – tickets here https://www.camraredisease.org/rarefest20/

At 12, Sarah was diagnosed with FSGS, a rare condition that causes scar tissue to develop on parts of the kidneys that filter waste from the blood. Not so rare. It actually affects 1 in 17,000 people. With medication, her condition stabilised long term.

Then, at 18, Sarah was also diagnosed with Moyamoya, which is far more unusual, affecting 1 in a million people in the UK. It causes the blood vessels to the brain to become narrowed, leading to paralysis and stroke. An operation all but cured this allowing her to live a full, busy life.

Last month, after sixteen years, Sarah’s FSGS symptoms returned, throwing her back to the uncertainty of her early years. It is a stark reminder of how uncertain life is with chronic illness and how dramatically life can change.

 “One minute I’m taking my health for granted, running marathons, travelling with work as an artist and writer, lecturing at university and publishing a second graphic novel with Penguin. Then suddenly, overnight, here I am with deteriorated kidney function. The disease is back and I’m suffering on high dosages of my treatment like when I was a child.”

Join Sarah at RAREfest20 to explore her exhibit and discover more about her diagnosis journey and her life since.  

“It’s a life I thought was in the past, but it’s different now. I’m an adult with responsibilities, a career and a real life. My mum and dad aren’t my carers anymore. I feel I have to be even stronger now but it’s very, very hard. In a way, the only silver lining is the pandemic. My condition would prevent me going onto the university campus, but thankfully I’m able to teach my students online. This gives me connection to the outside world, happiness and distraction. I don’t feel jealous that I’m missing out, because we’re all at home, restricted, and there’s something comforting in that. I’m taking pleasure in smaller things – walks around my new home of Portobello in Edinburgh and trying to remain hopeful that this is just temporary. It will pass.”

Who is your hero?
My mum and dad. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if I would ever have got a diagnosis. They fought for me and never treated me any different to my siblings. Even when my body was out of control, they burned it into the back of my mind that I can do anything I want. I’ve lived my whole life with that positivity.

Where is your favourite place in the world?
Anywhere my husband and my dog are! I love Portobello Beach in Edinburgh. It’s incredibly
relaxing and calm. Scotland is stunning. It’s a wonderful place to live.

What is your greatest achievement?
Being a published author twice, against the background of my school life which was ‘You’ll never achieve anything!’ I also have a BA degree and an MA from the Royal College of Art, which I’m really proud of.

What is your hope for rare disease?
I hope that the community keeps growing and that awareness keeps growing. I hope the route to diagnosis gets shorter for everyone.

puff of smoke sarah lippett rarefest20

Journey of Hope: Ceridwen Hughes at RAREfest20

Journey of Hope: Ceridwen Hughes at RAREfest20

“The importance of diagnosis cannot be underestimated. Not only do you feel like you have something you can put a name to, but it opens doors, not least the ability to connect with others who have that shared experience and knowledge.”
Ceridwen Hughes, Same but Different

RAREfest saturday speaker Giles Yeo

Founder of Same but Different, Ceridwen Hughes, will lead a webinar at RAREfest20 all about the diagnostic journeys faced by parents of children with rare diseases. It’s based on the critically acclaimed film ‘Journey of Hope’, which Ceridwen directed. Here she talks to us about the importance of diagnosis, her hopes and her heroes.

RAREfest20 logo

As a parent of a child with a rare disease, what does RAREfest20 mean to you – and your child?
Awareness about Rare Diseases and the celebration of this wonderful community is really important. RAREfest is a brilliant opportunity to bring people together and share experiences, whilst also educating one another and the wider community about all things rare!

From your research and your own experience, what frustrations do parents face in their diagnostic journey? 
In our film, ‘Journey of Hope’, I think Iggy’s mum, Sarah, explained it perfectly. She said, “The diagnosis certainly doesn’t give us simplicity, but it gives us a starting point. It gives us a starting point to begin to understand what Iggy needs. Before that, we had nothing.”

 Our own diagnostic journey was relatively short. It took 11 months, but this felt like a long time to us. Sadly, for so many, it can take many more years.  The importance of diagnosis cannot be underestimated. Not only do you feel like you have something you can put a name to, but it opens doors, not least the ability to connect with others who have that shared experience and knowledge.  When I chat with parents as part of my work, we immediately have that shared bond, even if our child’s rare disease is very different. You just ‘get it’. 

There are so many barriers in place before you get a diagnosis, including from some medical professionals.  We recently gave a talk to medics. Whilst grabbing a coffee, a consultant said that he often saw patients in his clinic and, even if he knew what their condition was likely to be, he did not see a value in telling them.  This arrogance and lack of understanding needs to be addressed.  It is one of the main drivers for creating the ‘Journey of Hope’.  We wanted to open up dialogue about the importance of a diagnosis whilst also highlighting it is not the answer to all your problems. 

Does life become easier with a diagnosis?
From our experience one of the things that is important when you get a diagnosis is that you don’t only look at disease-specific information.  The answer to a problem often comes from other sources and other diseases.  Through our Rare Navigator service, we support families with any rare disease. It has been helpful in sharing ideas or solutions that others, often with very different diseases, have found works for them.  The knowledge within the rare disease community is vast and it is important it is shared across the spectrums.

 

You have spoken to and photographed numerous people with rare diseases. What have you learnt about the rare disease community?
Over the years I have spoken to so many people affected by rare disease, including parents, individuals affected and other close relatives. The word that jumps out is resilience.  The strength to keep on getting back up, even after the most incredibly difficult times, is awe inspiring. The rare disease community is always on hand to provide information, support and a big hug when needed.

Dr Giles Yeo says the biggest challenge is convincing people that understanding rare diseases benefits the whole of society. Do you agree?
Absolutely. Finding treatments for rare diseases that can be used for more common ailments is just one example.  In a world where people are often judged on what they look like rather than accepted for who they are, it makes it even more important that society is aware of rare diseases. Recognising the challenges people go through will ultimately lead to a kinder, more compassionate community. 

 One of the reasons I set up ‘Same but Different’ was to capture the person behind the condition rather than simply show their disability.  We use photography, video and written narratives that give the individual a stronger voice in their community.  Often, it’s the first time they have shared their very personal experiences. It has really helped others understand their challenges.

Who is your hero and why?
I am incredibly lucky that each day I get to work with my heroes. I know it sounds a bit corny, but my heroes are each and every parent whose child gets a rare disease diagnosis and has to carry on and fight for their child to access the treatments and support they need.  These are the parents who have to smile when they are condescended to. These are the ones who have to smile when their heart is shattering because, once again, their child is overlooked or underestimated. 

Where’s your favourite place in the world and why?
It has to be Finnish Lapland, a small ski village called Levi which is far above the arctic circle.  We had the most magical week’s holiday there.  It was the first time we went on a husky ride through the snowy forest at -21 and Isaac fell asleep on a sledge whilst we looked for northern lights.  A close second would have to be Tromso in Norway, again a magical place in the winter.

What is your greatest achievement?
Picking up the camera for the first time and having the courage to follow my dreams and change career in my 40s.  I would also say setting up an MDT for Moebius syndrome when one did not exist before.

What is your hope for rare disease?
I would hope that one day it is recognised for not being rare and, with that, people may be more willing to look at the overall impact these diseases have on health, education and the community as a whole.

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - Journey of Hope: Ceridwen Hughes at RAREfest20 4

COVID-19 and it’s Impact on the Rare Disease Community: Insight

COVID-19 and it’s Impact on the Rare Disease Community: Insight

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the lives of just about everyone, especially patients in receiving continued treatment and care. But what does it mean for patients who already have trouble accessing therapies or with finding and engaging with others like them?

The novel coronavirus, and the international response to the pandemic, pose significant and in many cases disproportionate threats to the rare disease community, given the vulnerability of those with chronic health conditions and the additional challenges being presented that affect their ability to weather this storm.

The rare disease community is one already facing significant challenges in obtaining early and accurate diagnoses and in accessing medicines and treatment, and their lives are all too often blighted by poor knowledge and understanding of their condition, leading to feelings of isolation and anxiety. They often have to navigate their way through unclear care pathways to obtain the support they and their families need; and now, with the additional threat of COVID- 19 on their health, the confusion and creeping isolation triggered by lockdown, and the stress placed on health systems, R&D and the pharma industry, the challenges appear more abundant than ever.


In the US, the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)’s recently released COVID- 19 Community Survey Report reveals the far-reaching impact the pandemic is having on rare patients and families. 772 participants responded to the survey conducted by NORD’s research team from I April through 8 April, representing 49 of 50 states and Washington, DC across multiple disease categories.

The findings reflect a community directly affected and overwhelmingly concerned about the COVID-19 crisis. At 98%, almost all respondents were worried about COVID-19 and, it would appear, with due cause. Among the respondents, 95% said their families had been directly impacted due to COVID-19: 74% have had medical appointments cancelled; 59% had been offered a telephone or video call as an alternative to an in-person appointment; 69% were concerned about medication and medical supplies being in short supply; 29%  had lost employment temporarily or permanently, and 11% of those job losses resulted in loss of health insurance too.

EURORDIS has released the preliminary findings of its first multi-country survey on how COVTD-19 is affecting people living with a rare disease, concluding that “the pandemic greatly hinders access to care”. They report that 5,000+ rare disease patients and their family members from all EU countries and beyond, representing 993 diseases, responded to the survey carried out via their Rare Barometer Programme. The preliminary results are based on survey responses submitted between 18 and 28 April and very similar themes emerge to those noted in the US.

EURORDIS reports that since the beginning of the COVID- 19 pandemic, nine in 10 rare disease patients have experienced interruptions of the care they receive for their condition and three in 10 perceive that these interruptions of care could definitely (one in 10) or probably (two in 10) be life-threatening. More than half of those awaiting surgery or transplants have seen these interventions cancelled or postponed and 80% have seen their appointments for rehabilitation therapies such as speech and physical therapies – sometimes the only therapies available when treatments are not – postponed or cancelled. Patients who usually receive care in hospitals are experiencing specific difficulties, with almost three in 10 reporting that the hospital or unit that normally provides care for their rare disease ls closed. Half of respondents had participated in online consultations or another form of telemedicine since the start of the pandemic; this is new for two in 10 patients. Almost nine in 10 of those utilising this type of consultation are happy with the experience and that it has been very or fairly helpful. In addition, the survey found that almost six in 10 reports they no longer have access to medical therapies such as infusions, chemotherapy and hormonal treatment at home or in hospital. More than 60% have lost access to diagnosis assessments such as blood or cardiac tests and medical imaging that arc often a vital part of their daily care. Close to seven in 10 have seen their appointments with the general practitioners or specialists cancelled, and almost six in 10 have seen their psychiatry follow-up interrupted.


Rare disease stakeholders from healthcare, patient advocacy groups and the pharma and regulatory industry from across the UK have been sharing their insights into disruption, risks and opportunities presented by COVID-19 in their sectors through a regular Zoom working group facilitated by Cambridge Rare Disease Network, Medics4RareDiseases and Rare Revolution Magazine. The group have identified a number of additional concerns for the rare disease community which will affect early diagnoses, access to research and treatments.

A member of the group flagged that there will be no appointments with clinical geneticists in many areas as these staff have been redeployed, whilst some genetic counsellors may have been doing some appointments by phone, but it is likely they could be redeployed too. It was also raised that face to face healthcare professional rare disease education has also ground to a halt, and this, alongside die lack of genetic testing, raises concerns that timely and accurate diagnosis of rare conditions is further impacted.

Members of the cross-sector group raised concerns about disruption to clinical trials and appraisal of rare disease treatments by NICE with patients in need of new treatment left waiting. At least nine rare disease treatment single technology appraisals and highly specialised technology evaluations are known to be delayed and a number of clinical trials of rare disease drugs on hold. For parents with children needing rapid solutions to degenerative diseases, these delays can mean the difference between life and death.

The rare disease community is familiar with isolation, issues with accessibility, and having to adapt so they are closely watching for opportunities arising from this crisis which may work to their advantage in the longer term. They’re largely welcoming the sudden, rapid uptake of telehealth which could mean less time and money wasted on travelling to appointments. They are watching with interest the adoption of health wearables and technology to monitor health in the home and hopeful that clinical trials may become more accessible if pharma companies adopt more virtual monitoring techniques in the future. They are also expectant that a rise in e-learning for health care professionals in bite-sized chunks will lead to a flurry of rare disease education packages and a more aware and knowledgeable community.


The Cambridge Rare Disease Network provides a window into the current experience of the rare disease community, and we catch up with three previous Pharmafocus contributors to see how the UK lockdown is affecting them.

Rebecca Pender’s daughter Hannah lives with the ultra-rare condition Inv Dup Del 8p: a genetic arrangement that affects just 80 people worldwide.

Rebecca Pender portait photo

Rebecca Pender portrait photo

Have you been able to access necessary medicines through your normal routes, or have you seen shortages or other difficulties during this time?

We’ve struggled with getting access to one particular drug: IV Ativan. We normally source through the local pharmacy or hospital pharmacy, but both have had issues in providing medicines. We’ve also had delays with Lamictal, but not as long as with IV Ativan. We’ve also had several diagnostic appointments cancelled with no indication of when they are
likely to be rescheduled. All our appointments have been conducted over the phone except the ones which were cancelled, but I feel these could have been telehealth appointments too.

How are you and Hannah coping with having to stay inside during the lockdown?

Being so isolated from our support network has been difficult, especially as we are shielding for Hannah. The change of routine has been the toughest on the kids, especially for Hannah as with her learning disability she doesn’t understand what’s going on. I am also 35 weeks pregnant, so it’s been so difficult being unable to share the journey with the family. When the lockdown came in, I was actually really glad that rare disease patients were included in the shielding group. It felt like a win as so often in the rare disease community we fight for visibility, and this time we were seen and protected from the outset.

Do you have any concerns about the treatment of rare disease patients during this period?

People in the rare disease community are rightly concerned that they are at the back of the queue for lifesaving and life-prolonging treatments. I’m also concerned at the amount of rare disease patients who are being bullied into signing ‘do not resuscitate’ documents, and how many are being refused lifesaving medications and equipment supplies because of apparent lack of stock. Because so much is unknown with COVID-19, but also unknown with rare diseases, it’s even more of an enigma as to how the two will interact. Our rare disease causes learning disabilities, not an acute illness, so it’s worrying that our rare disease could be used as an excuse to withhold treatment.

Vaila Morrison’s nine-year old daughter Eilidh (Ej) was born with the ultra-rare condition KAT6A. 

Unique Feet Vaila and Eilidh go horseriding

Unique Feet go horseriding

Have you had difficulty in getting hold of any medications that Eilidh needs since the lockdown began in the UK?

EJ is currently taking a supplement to aid her metabolic function. It’s a drug that has to be prescribed via hospital rather than primary care through a GP, and strangely that’s meant it has – so far! – been easier to access during this time. Normally its a bit of a marathon of phone calls to get the prescription, check the pharmacy has it in stock and then make a trip to visit the hospital outpatient pharmacy. The last batch of three months’ worth was delivered by the hospital pharmacy to our door within 24 hours of calling the consultant’s secretary.

Self-isolation has been trying for everyone, but it must be doubly so for rare disease patients. What has been your experience?

EJ has profound learning disabilities and doesn’t understand the reasons behind staying at home at this time. She obviously misses her friends and the fantastic staff at her school, and is missing out on all the specialist equipment and activities. However, shes a very content and happy person so she’s not been fazed at all by spending more time at home. We are very lucky to have a garden so she can spend a lot of time outdoors to provide a bit of variation, as well as some fresh air and vitamin D. The main challenge for us is balancing the differing needs of everyone in the family. EJ is in the shielding category, and as it’s impossible for us to social distance within the household, that means we are all shielding together.

Have mobile health solutions helped you overcome some of the challenges of getting health advice?

EJ had an annual multi-team review at the beginning of the lockdown phase. This was able to go ahead via phone consultation with us at home and the paediatrician, school teacher,
school nurse and physio at school. This ended up being really useful as we could ask some COVID-19-specific questions about what category we should consider EJ to be in, and they were able to advise us of a SEND-specific helpline they were intending to implement to support families like ours.

Many rare disease patients must be in a similar situation right now. Have you been in touch with other patients or carers during this time? Has it helped to break the isolation?

We’ve been part of SWAN UK since before EJ was diagnosed. We’ve found it to be a fabulous support network for families with children with undiagnosed conditions. It’s mostly via an online forum as the network is national and we are all sprinkled across the country. This has meant the mechanism for staying in touch hasn’t had to adjust on the whole, as we are all used to chatting via a Facebook group. This has been a great source of info on how people are coping and accessing services. We are also members of a super local network of families. Unique Feet is a group for families of children with rare diseases run by the Cambridge Rare Disease Network (CRDN) in Cambridgeshire. We do chat on line, but normally would be meeting up to do a variety of fun activities with the children. CRDN has been brilliant at adjusting to circumstances and have set up zoom yoga sessions and sent out two activity bundles to the children, including postcards for the children to keep in contact with each other. Being able to chat with other parents, locally and nationally, has been so useful for questions about health, staying safe, access to care and also practical things like how people shielding manage to get shopping delivery slots!

I’m sure you share the same concerns as all of us for your personal health and of those close to us, but is there another level of anxiety for rare disease patients when it comes to catching the virus?

We are fortunate that EJ has never had a particular predisposition to chest infections; however, very little is actually known about her rare condition. There are only about 200 cases identified so far worldwide so it’s ultra-rare. Eilidh has had heart patch surgery in the past and there seems to be a metabolic element to her gene change, so there’s always a worry that we don’t know how her body will react to a new disease. The emergence of information about children being affected by inflammatory disease related to COVID-19 is a particular concern. There is a real concern that in the event of an overwhelmed system, any-one with certain age-related “frailties” or an “underlying health condition” is potentially going to be offered palliative care rather than active treatment.

This concern extends to those with learning disabilities. Despite a number of statements from the top level to say that learning disability should NOT be considered as a reason not to treat I can’t help but worry that there’s still an unconscious – sometimes conscious – prejudice against those who don’t fit the ‘normal healthy person’ bracket and an assumption about their quality of life. There’s been quite a number of worrying articles about ‘do not resuscitate’ orders being placed without loved ones’ knowledge; care homes for people with learning disabilities not having access to testing and PPE and figures recently reported by BBC Breakfast about the higher rate of death due to COVID-19 among those with learning disability. As EJ has profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) as part of her genetic condition, its therefore of huge concern to me that if the system is overwhelmed, she might not get access to the same care as a typical child.

Based on your first-hand experience, what do you think needs to be done to address the needs of rare disease patients during this unprecedented time?

As at any time, the healthcare system needs to look beyond the average person and ‘the way we normally do things’ and strive to ensure patient-centred care. Listen to rare patients and their families, who often know as much, if not more, about their particular condition than any health professional. Work with us, and please don’t make assumptions!

 

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 host rare stage at Innovation Forum Health Horizons

CRDN host rare stage at Innovation Forum Health Horizons

CRDN brings the RARE voice to major life sciences event

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Cambridge Biotech week,  25th – 28th of June 2019,  was a brand new festival of events launched by the Global Innovation Forum designed to accelerate scientific ideas and support investment and growth for companies in the field of life sciences.

Events took place  across Cambridge and included the Health Horizons Future Healthcare Forum,  the Milner Therapeutics Symposium, Digital Disruptors, Scaling up Success in Biotech hosted by One Nucleus and the Hong Kong Biotech Roadshow.  As part of the two day Health Horizons Forum, Cambridge Rare Disease Network were honoured to host  ‘Rare Disease Innovation and Collaboration’ at Corpus Christi College. 

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From left to right – Prof Tim Cox, Dr Rick Thompson, Patricia Durao-Lewi, Dr Tim Guilliams

Health Horizons is a high calibre, two-day conference focusing on the future of the healthcare industry. Over 100 hard-hitting speakers gathered to address this challenge and share their thoughts with a global audience. The Cambridge Independent shared their “Five things we learned at Health Horizons” summing up that “it’s all about being interdisciplinary”, “research needs to be translated”, “scientific co-creation can follow from serendipity” and “open innovation can accelerate progress”. Needless to say we were delighted to bring the conversation around to the development of treatments and cures for rare diseases and promote the patient voice as essential to these interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches.

As with all of our events, it’s great to have a broad range of stakeholders in attendance. A global audience of patient groups and rare disease advocates, industry, healthcare, research and technology professionals were in attendance to benefit from the thought-provoking presentations of our four speakers who are at the heart of innovative breakthroughs in therapies and technology.  Delegates were able to share in their expertise in co-creating innovative solutions to some of rare disease’s most challenging healthcare issues. Presentations and Q+A were followed by a lively panel discussion moderated by CRDN Trustee Prof. Tim Cox.

The race to introduce new medicines, provide healthcare and stimulate investment often misses the point for patients at the centre of our network… Strong, forward-looking talks from all the speakers showed what can be achieved in true partnership – and how. Put simply: different means for each party needs to be understood if the common goal is to be achieved.

Professor Tim Cox

CRDN Trustee

THE Presentations in a Nut-Shell

Professor Tim Cox – Professor of medicine and trustee of CRDN
What is it to be rare?

From the diagnostic odyssey still faced by patients with rare diseases to the rise of drug buyers clubs, Professor Cox discussed the current climate and how his belief in human connections and collaborative and combined thoughts and effort will have the greatest potential for solving the biggest challenges in rare disease drug development. Tim spoke with a passion and empathy which comes from many years of working closely with affected patients, their families and with patient groups.

 

Dr Tim Gulliams – CEO and Co-Founder of Healx
Drug repurposing for rare diseases: patient group partnerships at the heart of AI

Dr Tim Guilliams spoke passionately about the importance of collaborating with patient groups and how invaluable this has been in their work in drug repurposing. Tim described some of the huge leaps forward that the Cambridge-based start up company has made using AI and big data to find drug-repurposing options for 100 rare diseases by 2025. But his message was clear, that their partnerships with patient groups who can share their lived experience are vital to their success.

 

Patricia Durao-Lewi Co-Founder of CATS Foundation
Patient organisations driving research: collaboration is the key

An inspirational presentation showing the sheer power of a united patient community. From being told they would never meet another Tay-Sachs patient to hosting their sixth European family conference and the creation of the European Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff Charity Consortium Patricia demonstrated how collaboration with other Tay-Sachs patient groups globally and a firm partnership with Prof Tim Cox and his team has allowed them to create a powerful and united narrative for Tay-Sachs and Sandhoff disease. Their purposeful and focussed collaborative approach has resulted in a comprehensive patient registry, successful funding bids and a promising research pipeline with clinical trial dates set for 2019 and 2020.

I would hope that my talk helped delegates understand that rare disease must be tackled from all angles. This means including patient organisations so that they can work together with pharma and researchers as a more powerful team.

Patricia Durao-Lewi

CATS Foundation

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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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

Wellcome Genome Campus Lecture and Tour

Wellcome Genome Campus Lecture and Tour

Summit Patient Journey poster creators and Unique Feet parents on tour at the Wellcome genome campus. 

As part of our #CRDN2017 summit, 33 rare disease patient groups and individuals created posters for exhibition and inclusion in a Patient Journey poster book. As a thank you and an opportunity to meet others and to continue to learn, the Cambridgeshire based Wellcome Genome Campus Engagement Team treated them and some of our Unique Feet group parents to a fascinating presentation, a guided tour and delicious lunch.

Dr Steve Scott from the Public Engagement Team delivered an interesting introductory talk about the history of and the pioneering work being undertaken at the Wellcome Genome Campus.  Following Prof Matthew Hurles treated the group to a fascinating and informative presentation and discussion about the DDD Deciphering Developmental Disorders project. 

The group were full of curiosity and questions and we wished we could have stayed all day! 

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Cambridge Rare Disease Network - Wellcome Genome Campus Lecture and Tour 47
It was interesting to hear how they were re-looking at those not diagnosed the first time round and getting more results
Sue

Pitt Hopkins UK

Being a lay person I found the content easy to follow and definitely learned new information. 
Angela

Action Duchenne

Amazing! Really interesting and wish we had more time. It would be great for them to give us more understanding – why do genes go wrong? 
Sue

Unique Feet parent

What lessons were learnt from the DDD project?

Exome sequencing is cost effective for diagnosis now
Sequencing parents enables rapid, accurate interpretation
Sharing data across centres:
increases the accuracy of diagnosis
increases discovery of new genes
model for translational research in other disease areas
Informatics underpinning is essential
Up front capture of clinical information is critical
Expert-curated knowledge underpins clinical interpretation
Regular re-interpretation of undiagnosed patients
Barriers to translation into existing NHS genetics services

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And the overall winner of our #CRDN2017 Patient Journey poster competition is…

And the overall winner of our #CRDN2017 Patient Journey poster competition is…

Suzanne Morris of Cambridge and Lynn Laidlaw have collaborated, using Suzanne’s graphic design skills and wonderful artistic vision, to create a patient journey poster submission for the Cambridge Rare Disease Summit 2017 for the Vasculitis UK charity, Suzanne and Lynn both have has Behçet’s Disease and volunteer for the charity.

We are delighted to announce that the Vasculitis UK poster has been nominated as the best overall design for it is incredible creativity and impact.

Judges said “The novel way in which the journey was portrayed using the characters from Cluedo really cleverly draws you in and is extremely memorable. Congratulations to all of you for your contribution to this – you should be very proud!!”

To learn more about how the poster was conceived and it’s message read on here and view the full poster here.

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