SAA joined rheumatologists, researchers, and patient advocates from around the world November 12-14 in Philadelphia, PA for the annual ACR (American College of Rheumatology) Convergence conference. The ACR is a professional membership organization dedicated to promoting education, understanding, and the care of people living with rheumatic diseases.
Held in person for the first time since the start of the pandemic, the ACR’s 2022 conference featured a hybrid mix of live in-person and virtual learning sessions presented by internationally recognized experts in rheumatology, radiology, immunology, and other fields. About 9,000 attendees, representing 104 countries, came together at the Pennsylvania Convention Center for this lively educational summit.
“2022 has been a very exciting year for axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA), in areas of new therapies, evolving therapies, and management guidelines, which are very useful for us in everyday clinical practice,” said rheumatologist Marina Magrey, MD, presenting a SpA year-in-review discussion at a session held by SPARTAN (Spondyloarthritis Research and Treatment Network).
In terms of new treatments, upadacitinib (Rinvoq) became the first JAK inhibitor medication to win FDA approval to treat both ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nr-axSpA).
As for evolving treatments – those still being studied – bimekizumab, a first-of-its-kind biologic medication that inhibits both IL-17A and IL-17F, showed strong results in treating both AS and nr-axSpA in a pair of 52-week clinical trials. “Bimekizumab was efficacious along the spectrum of axSpA [AS and nr-axSpA], which is expected since they are two ends of the same spectrum. If a drug works in radiographic SpA, we believe that it must work in non-radiographic SpA, too,” Dr. Magrey said. “We are eagerly awaiting the approval of this medication, which is going to open up more options for our patients.”
Additionally, ASAS-EULAR released its updated 2022 recommendations for the management of axSpA. Updates included adding JAK inhibitors as a treatment option if a person doesn’t respond well to biologics, and revisiting the diagnosis if a person doesn’t respond to any of the currently available treatments. “Our goal of treatment is to improve the quality of life in these patients by improving pain, stiffness, and preventing structural damage,” Dr. Magrey said. “Both pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments should be considered, and the treatment should be a shared decision between the patient and the physician.”
Other sessions at the three-day conference looked at scientific studies now underway that could bring about new treatments and management strategies in the future.
Researchers presented on key questions they are investigating: How do systemic immune changes progress to arthritis? Is bone loss in psoriatic arthritis directly caused by inflammation? Which immune cells and processes are now being studied, that may play a role in the development of SpA?
Talks covered a variety of topics, including the latest understanding of cytokines that drive inflammation, the latest data on the impact of nutrition on rheumatic diseases, treating Covid and long Covid in those with rheumatic diseases, incorporating women’s health in rheumatology, the latest advances in imaging to detect SpA-related inflammation on MRI, and more.
SAA staff members led by Kristine Eskandari, Senior Manager of Programs, displayed information and resources at a booth in the exhibit hall, handing out educational materials to physicians and engaging rheumatologists from across the globe in conversation about caring for those who live with SpA.
Also at the conference, SAA presented our annual Bruckel Early Career Investigator Award to rheumatologist Jean Liew, MD, of Boston University. The SAA/Bruckel Early Career Investigator Award, created in 2001, recognizes outstanding contributions to the care and understanding of patients with spondyloarthritis, and comes with a $30,000 research grant from SAA to advance the study of SpA.
“This award is meant to recognize a young investigator whose work is improving the lives and care of patients with SpA,” said pediatric rheumatologist Pam Weiss, MD, MSCE, chair of SAA’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Board, who presented the award to Dr. Liew with SAA’s CEO Cassie Shafer before a packed conference room of rheumatologists and researchers. “The purpose of this award is to encourage young investigators to want to do research in this field, because it’s so important.”
Why does SAA attend the ACR conference? Getting to meet, discuss ideas, and create partnerships with leading rheumatologists and other medical experts is a priceless experience, according to staff members.
For Richard Howard, SAA’s Chief Mission Delivery Officer, it’s also a place of hope.
“For me with my patient hat on, the ACR annual conference is a reminder that we have dedicated spondyloarthritis researchers doing important work all year long, and there are thousands of rheumatologists in the audience to hear and ask questions about the latest information for their patients,” said Richard, who lives with AS. “There is no substitute for the inspiration felt, sitting next to a brilliant researcher as they passionately explain how their research could lead to improving the lives of people living with my disease.”
–Rachel Zaimont, Associate Manager of Publications and Programs