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The voices of people living with obesity are important, ensuring that patients’ insights, opinions and wishes are placed at the core of SOPHIA

Exeter in £14 million international consortium to improve obesity treatment and narrative

The University of Exeter has joined an international, research consortium which aims to improve how obese people will respond to treatment, and who is most at risk of developing complications.

SOPHIA (Stratification of Obese Phenotypes to Optimize Future Obesity Therapy) is a new £14 million EU-supported international research consortium, which is launched today. SOPHIA includes twenty-nine leading partners from civil society, academia and industry in 12 countries.

The £14 million in funding for this five-year project has been granted from the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) - a joint undertaking of the European Commission and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA); JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation); the Obesity Action Coalition; and T1D Exchange.

Obesity is a global pandemic currently affecting around 150 million people in Europe and 650 million people worldwide. Obesity complications are common, but clinicians cannot yet predict who will develop any of the 200 known complications of obesity. Moreover, it is not yet possible to accurately predict who will respond to obesity treatments. SOPHIA will focus on matching the right treatment for the right person at the right time.

Professor Tim Frayling, who leads the Exeter involvement in SOPHIA, said: This exciting new research project aims to advance understanding of how two people of similar BMI can have very different risks of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some obesity-linked cancers. It’s a fantastic opportunity to work closely with, and share expertise, across many of Europe’s leading researchers in obesity, and complements existing expertise in Exeter on diabetes and obesity research”

SOPHIA will provide evidence-based guidance for obesity complications and response to obesity treatment. The project will also identifying and charting models for sustainably developing treatment pathways that will be valuable for patients, healthcare systems, researchers and clinicians.

Professor Carel le Roux, coordinator of SOPHIA and obesity physician at the Diabetes Complications Research Centre at University College Dublin, said: “Our mission within SOPHIA is to enable healthcare professionals to reliably predict the complications of obesity and who will respond to treatment.”

SOPHIA Project Leader Dr Marianne Ølholm Larsen Grønning of Novo Nordisk, said: “Obesity is a complex, chronic disease and there is still a lot we do not know, both about the biology of the disease itself and how treatment can improve the lives of patients with obesity. SOPHIA is an important step towards understanding obesity better. The collaboration between academia, industry and associations promises strong and unique results.”

The voices of people living with obesity will be at the heart of SOPHIA through the establishment of a Patient Advisory Board. It will ensure that patients’ insights, opinions and wishes are placed at the core of SOPHIA and interwoven into the multiple layers of the study. The research group will use its findings to contribute to a more patient-centric and equitable narrative around obesity and its multiple impacts on individuals from both a social and medical perspective. It all starts with obesity being a chronic disease, not something people choose to live with. 

SOPHIA is funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) - a joint undertaking of the European Commission and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA); JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation); the Obesity Action Coalition; and T1D Exchange.

Some of the methods used in SOPHIA will be:

  • Creating a database
  • Conducting analysis
  • Conducting in-depth qualitative methods with patients to identify their perceptions and perspectives on obesity diagnosis and treatment
  • Finding a shared value with all stakeholders to ensure better treatment of people living with obesity

SOPHIA will also investigate health outcomes in people with obesity who have type 1 diabetes. According to Dr Sanjoy Dutta, JDRF Vice President of Research, “With the statistical power afforded by such a large European collaboration, we will be able to investigate the two-way relationship between obesity and type 1 diabetes and ultimately be able to make valid predictions about health outcomes in this traditionally underappreciated population. Since recent epidemiological data indicate that nearly half of adults with T1D in some European countries have overweight or obesity, it is critical for the T1D community to address this challenge.”

The project will officially kick off its activities across Europe on 1 June 2020.  It will last until 31 May 2025 and the first milestone is already planned for September 2020. 

Date: 2 June 2020

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