Cecily Morrison – Inclusive Design is About Taking a Disability-first Approach

Cecily Morrison – Inclusive Design is About Taking a Disability-first Approach

Cecily Morrison is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research in Cambridge. She leads a multi-disciplinary team that innovates new technologies to enable people. Last month Cecily was awarded an MBE for services to inclusive design. She and her team are exhibiting at RAREfest20. More on that later, but first …

Microsoft logo

Congratulations on your MBE! How did that feel?

I was extremely pleased that inclusive design has been so clearly recognized. Inclusion is not a ‘nice-to-have’, it is essential for a diverse set of people to take part in society. I am grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to make technology, working with amazing teams, that supports people with their inclusion.

What does Microsoft in Cambridge do in terms of inclusive design?

Inclusive Design is a really good way to innovate. By working with those with unique perspectives, it can help a team think about a problem in a different way that can benefit all. Our team is currently focused on building AI tech to help people who are blind or low vision better understand who is in their immediate vicinity.

What kind of products do you work on and what difference do they make?

One of the products specifically mentioned in the MBE award was Code Jumper – a physical programming language for teaching the basics of coding and computational thinking to children ages 7 – 11, regardless of their level of vision. This came about after engaging with a community of young blind and low vision people in Cambridge, a community that my son is now part of.  Coding is a key part of our curriculum, but it isn’t accessible to those who are blind or low vision. We wanted to build something that would allow children who are blind or low vision to code alongside their sighted peers.

Read more about how Code Jumper started.

How does Microsoft work with people with accessibility challenges?

Microsoft believes in accessibility from the top down and the bottom up. Whether in research (like me) or in product, we work with people to understand their experiences now and in the future.

Melita Irving DNA Doc

Why is inclusive design important and why is it often difficult to get products adapted?

I believe that we need to take a disability-first approach, not disability-last. If it works for those with disabilities, it is much easier to make it work for the mainstream. We are moving into the next phase of AI tech and I would highly encourage those with disabilities to get involved in disability-first datasets, such as https://orbit.city.ac.uk/phase-2-data-collection/.

For technologies to reflect a diverse set of people, they must be trained on data of all of those people. Find out more here

https://blogs.microsoft.com/ai/shrinking-the-data-desert/

What can people expect from the Microsoft booth at RAREfest20?

We will be showing some of our tech and giving you the chance to try out inclusive design. Whether it’s a tool you can bring as a patient to groups you work with, or as a student who wants to approach the world in a more inclusive way, there will be something for you to learn.

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 1

RAREsolutions 2020: Change by Design – STEM poster Competition for young people

RAREsolutions 2020: Change by Design – STEM poster Competition for young people

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREsolutions 2020: Change by Design - STEM poster Competition for young people 2
Hannah & Nicole, the winners of the RAREsolutions competition 2018 with Jonathan Milner

Enthusiasm, Curiosity, Initiative

Winners of RAREsolutions poster design competition 2018 share their insights for this year’s challenge!

If you take a sprinkle of artistic talent and a splash of passion for medicine and health, you have a winning formula for success! Nicole and Hannah pooled their talents to produce a brilliant entry for our first ever RAREsolutions STEM poster competition, impressing the judges with their creativity and determination for making a difference.

 

RAREsolutions20 poster design competition logo

RAREsolutions is a poster competition with a conscience, pushing for change by design. It’s part of the RAREfest20 rare -disease inspired festival and is open to anyone in Years 7-13.  All you have to do is watch the RAREsolutions challenge videos, pick the one that inspires you most, and go for it.

As we launch our new and exciting RAREsolutions 2020 STEM competition, let’s hear from the dynamic duo who scooped the prize last time.

Hannah & Nicole share their thoughts about the RAREsolutions design competition

Why did you enter the competition?

Hannah: We found out about the RAREsolutions poster competition in our school bulletin. I was immediately drawn to take part as it really struck a chord with me, having recently learnt about genetics in biology. I have a real passion for medicine and health! I knew instantly I wanted to take part with my friend Nicole, who is really good at art and design. Combining our talents and being able to work collaboratively really appealed to us. It’s not often we get to work as a team!

What inspired your design?

Nicole: The first steps was to decide which challenge we wanted to design a poster for. On the CRDN website there were three different challenges set from people with rare conditions. They asked us to create innovative solutions to help them live more independent lives.

Hannah: The one that really resonated with us came from Eilidh. The quest to make playtime more fun and accessible. Eilidh has KAT6A syndrome, an extremely rare genetic neurodevelopmental disorder. This can impair or alter growth and development of the brain and central nervous system.

What research did you do?

Nicole: We had a few weeks to research the condition, contact Vaila (Eilidh’s Mum), find a solution and design the poster. It was amazing to take part in a project that combined science, research skills and design.

Hannah: RAREsolutions was not dry like the usual essay writing competitions and gave us the change to come up with a real-world solution. Life can throw up all sorts of accessibility challenges for those living with sensory and physical disabilities, but actually they are people just like you and me. They want to live life to the full, but the environment makes that tough.

I’d recommend taking part in this competition to anyone. It not only helps patients with rare diseases live better lives, but also changes your own life!

Hannah

Winners of the RAREsolution 2018 competition

You presented your winning idea at RAREfest18. How did that feel?

Nicole: We were hugely proud of our achievement but also daunted at the idea of presenting to an audience of genetic experts, having only previously made presentations at school!

Hannah: It really helped having each other for support. We put together a presentation and also produced a tri-fold leaflet. It was a fantastic opportunity to stand up in front of an audience of people from the rare disease community, ranging from genetic scientists to patients and their families. It was an incredible experience!

How has this competition changed your lives?

Nicole: It has really inspired me to find out more about how rare disease affects patients, not only the biology aspect also the social implications and how people can be marginalised. Taking part in the competition gave me more confidence and led me to focus on eugenics for my Year 12 project.

Hannah: On the day itself, we met some great people and made some really useful contacts for the future. I found myself having a conversation with someone from the Stem Cell Institute, which prompted the subject for my Year 12 research project about stem cell treatment and therapies for Type 1 Diabetes.

The RAREfest20 RAREsolutions poster competition is now LIVE!

RAREfest20 logo

RAREsolutions poster competition is part of RAREfest20, a vital, vibrant, virtual festival that champions the rare disease community, bringing together the brightest scientific minds, the most innovative tech, the medical pioneers and, of course, the patients, who are as unique as the festival itself.

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

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RARESummit 2019 – Patients as partners 4
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
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RARESummit 2019 – Patients as partners 6
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
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RARESummit 2019 – Patients as partners 10

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.

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 17
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 18
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 19
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 20
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 21
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 22
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 23
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 24
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 25
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 26
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREfest18 "heartwarming, uplifting, informative" 27

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

CRDN takes part in the Wellcome Genome Campus Hackathon #BioHack

CRDN takes part in the Wellcome Genome Campus Hackathon #BioHack

Some of the CRDN team joined 150 participants at the Wellcome genome campus BioData Hackathon on 2-3 July

Focused on finding novel ways to use biological data to improve healthcare, teams had 2 days to design, develop and present their solutions. CRDN played a pivotal role in setting the scene for the 2-days as trustee Dr Gemma Chandratillake took to the stage to deliver a presentation reminding participants about the utility of a diagnosis for those undiagnosed and living with rare conditions and the value of patient-centred, cross-sector working with an open approach to sharing research and data.

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - CRDN takes part in the Wellcome Genome Campus Hackathon #BioHack 28
Dr Gemma Chandratillake, CRDN trustee, inspires the attendees with her patient-centric talk
The 150 participants with backgrounds in statistics, bioinformatics, genomics, medicine, design, entrepreneurship and patient advocacy listened to pitches from each of the challenge partners before making their way into teams with others interested in a particular challenge.

Jo, our events and communications manager, mentored a team working on a Microsoft challenge. The challenge was to create a system for a clinical trial for phase 3 oncology patients around the person’s home. The 4 teams working on this challenge all brought a variety of skills and creativity to the task and  very much reflected on the patient at the centre of the challenge.  The winning team designed an all inclusive box which allowed video calls with healthcare professionals,  had an integral digital pill dispenser and a section to collect require samples for collection.

And the winners were…

Simon Hazelwood-Smith was one of the winning team in the drug-repurposing challenge set by Open Targets. You can read his blog post here about how their idea was inspired by Gemma’s talk.

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - CRDN takes part in the Wellcome Genome Campus Hackathon #BioHack 29
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - CRDN takes part in the Wellcome Genome Campus Hackathon #BioHack 30
 
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - CRDN takes part in the Wellcome Genome Campus Hackathon #BioHack 31
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - CRDN takes part in the Wellcome Genome Campus Hackathon #BioHack 32
Twitter image from the #BioHack challenges from the Wellcome Genome Campus website.

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 34
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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Cambridge Rare Disease Network - Wellcome Genome Campus Lecture and Tour 36
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - Wellcome Genome Campus Lecture and Tour 37

CRDN trustee helps new mums learn genomics from home

CRDN trustee helps new mums learn genomics from home

Dr Gemma Chandratillake, CRDN trustee and East of England Genomics Education Lead, attended the No Isolation AV1 avatar breakout workshop at the CRDN Summit 2017 in October.

Like others attending she quickly began to see applications for the robot beyond its original purpose, to reduce isolation for children living with long-term, chronic illness.  At the summit, Mio Kristiansen, from No Isolation, gave the audience an opportunity to see the robot in action as it sat on the stage during the afternoon talks, controlled from Edinburgh by Rare Disease carer, father and advocate John Wallace.

John was unable to leave his family to travel to the event so joined us via AV1, watching the action live on his laptop at home, and on one occasion, heckling the speaker and being told to be quiet!

So how did this inspire Gemma to help her students?

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - CRDN trustee helps new mums learn genomics from home 38
Image above from Cambridge Independent newspaper
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - CRDN trustee helps new mums learn genomics from home 39
Screenshot above from C4 news  website
Read this article in the Cambridge Independent newspaper, and watch the recent Channel 4 news footage from Jon Snow.

CRDN Inaugural Summit: Tackling the rare disease conundrum with passion, innovation and investment

CRDN Inaugural Summit: Tackling the rare disease conundrum with passion, innovation and investment

Tackling the rare disease conundrum with passion, innovation and investment

Article by Paul Tunnah, Pharmaphorum

Passion

The level of passion for making a difference among all those working in rare diseases is incredible, but it is no doubt led by the patients and their families themselves, each with their own unique story. But it is the ability for these individuals to truly empower themselves and cross the bridge from patient/carer to researcher, communicator and innovator that never ceases to amaze me. 

Take the example of Matt Might whose response to his son’s initially undiagnosed condition was to secure funding for his entire genome sequencing and identify a completely new rare disease cause by a mutation in the NGLY1 gene. Since then, he has built a global community (NGLY1.org), which has so far identified 39 patients around the world, accepted a Visiting Professorship at Harvard Medical School and is now actively leading the race to find a drug that can be used as an effective treatment.

His opening keynote set the tone for the entire day and his experience is reflective of many others who are taking the same proactive steps and not waiting for others to bring the medicine to them. Nick Sireau, one of the CRDN founders and Chairman of the AKU Society and Findacure, is another good example in the work he has done to identify a treatment for his two sons, who have alkaptonuria (AKU), also known as black bone disease.

Innovation comes in many forms, but drug development is at the core of it

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - CRDN Inaugural Summit: Tackling the rare disease conundrum with passion, innovation and investment 40
Professor Gregory Winter – Cam Uni and Cambridge Antibody Technology (right), Dr Tim Guilliams – Founder and Chair CRDN (left)

 Innovation

Such passion needs to be combined with innovation to help find solutions to the problems that rare disease patients and their families face. Innovation comes in many forms, but drug development is at the core of it and the Summit featured several notable scientific researchers sharing their experiences.

 Professor Sir Greg Winter, cofounder of Cambridge Antibody Technology and local to Cambridge as Master of Trinity College, explained the science of synthetic antibodies and their critical role in treating diseases where the genetic pathways are well understood, including their developing application in rare diseases. His current focus is on bicyclic small peptides, which could hold the same therapeutic potential as antibodies, while being able to permeate cells more easily owing to their small size and being cheaper to produce. A later speech by Professor Steve Jackson, also locally based with his work at The Gurdon Institute, presented equally dazzling science into the mechanisms of DNA-repair pathways. Although early application has been in cancer treatment (Jackson was a founder of KuDOS Pharmaceuticals, which developed olaparib and was later acquired by AstraZeneca), the potential is much broader and his work touches on rare diseases such as ataxia.

Innovation also comes in how the rare disease community is connected to help elevate disease awareness and aid in bringing such great science to patients. Eurordis, the ‘voice of rare disease patients in Europe’ has been at the forefront of activities here and clearly has ambitions to expand into a more global role. Denis Costello, RareConnect Project Leader, provided a sneak preview of what the new RareConnect.org information platform will look like, which appears to be very much like a Google for rare diseases, including translation into multiple languages. With launch anticipated in the next couple of months, watch this space!

Passion and innovation is impossible to translate into front-line treatment without sufficient funding

Investment

Innovation also comes in how the rare disease community is connected to help elevate disease awareness and aid in bringing such great science to patients. Eurordis, the ‘voice of rare disease patients in Europe’ has been at the forefront of activities here and clearly has ambitions to expand into a more global role. Denis Costello, RareConnect Project Leader, provided a sneak preview of what the new RareConnect.org information platform will look like, which appears to be very much like a Google for rare diseases, including translation into multiple languages. With launch anticipated in the next couple of months, watch this space!

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - CRDN Inaugural Summit: Tackling the rare disease conundrum with passion, innovation and investment 41
Herman Hauser – speaker 

 One topic for the day was the idea of ‘repurposing’ – taking existing drugs for more common conditions and securing approval for them to be used as a rare disease therapeutic. This has been a core focus for the work of the aforementioned champions like Matt Might, but more systematic initiatives are now underway with platforms like  www.cureaccelerator.org. Dr Bruce Bloom, President of Cures Within Reach, the organisation behind Cure Accelerator, also outlined how they are trying to work with the generics industry as a whole to support drug repurposing.

While charities such as MRC Technology are working tirelessly to help fund the transition from research to treatment and there is a sense that more funding is flowing in the direction of this area (something also covered by Professor Steve Jackson), there is a clear need to explore novel funding mechanisms. This was covered during an interesting session on ‘alternative funding strategies’, which included crowdfunding and the growing area of impact investing, where investment is made not just on the basis of expected return financially, but also what ethical impact the work will have. 

Could we see ‘social investment bonds’ help drive future rare disease research?

Paul Tunnah

Ultimately, it is clear that the involvement of commercial companies in rare diseases is critical to accelerate the race to find cures. Financial incentives are part of the solution here, but also needed is the realisation that a rare disease indication can provide a good ‘foothold’ for approval as a precursor to approval in a broader range of indications. In addition, the experience gained from working in the microcosm of rare diseases could also have much broader benefits, as personalised medicine holds the potential to ultimately segment common conditions into clusters of rare diseases.

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Professor Stephen Hawking provided a video keynote 

A closing video keynote from none other than Professor Stephen Hawking reminded us all of the importance of continued activity in tackling the challenges of rare diseases. Hawking, who was diagnosed at a young age with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neurone disease, has defied the odds in staying alive, but how many brilliant minds have been lost too early under similar circumstances? I would challenge any health economist to calculate the benefits of investing in rare disease treatment in that context