Dr. Joan Merrill, MD, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, Arthritis & Clinical Immunology Research Program, US, discusses new Phase 3 data presented during the annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR 2021) on anifrolumab that showed significant improvements in rash and arthritis in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Anifrolumab’s application in SLE is under review by regulatory authorities in the US, EU and Japan, with decisions anticipated in the second half of 2021.
Dr. Merrill received her medical training at Cornell University Medical College, New York, followed by an internship and residency at St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital Center, a fellowship in rheumatology at NYU Medical Center, and a basic research fellowship at Columbia University.As the Lupus Foundation of America’s Chief Advisor for Clinical Development, Dr. Merrill has made numerous enduring contributions to the field of lupus. As a clinical researcher, Dr. Merrill is a major leader in lupus trial design, innovating new ways to tackle the heterogeneity inherent in this complex disease. She championed the importance of building well-defined cohorts, currently leading a registry of more than 650 lupus patients which she has leveraged for participation in clinical trials. She was a major voice and writer in advocating the inclusion of exploratory analyses to tackle disappointing trial results in the hopes that data-driven hypotheses would support improved trial design. This work led to an ongoing LFA-sponsored Combined Data Analysis Initiative to look at data across trials. Dr. Merrill is well known for precedent setting in her Biomarkers of Lupus Disease (BOLD) study, which revealed that decreasing background medications is essential to identifying efficacy of new agents. Indeed a ground-breaking successful anifrolumab study used a steroid tapering component, confirming improved discrimination by tapering medications. In addition to her own studies, Dr. Merrill also works with the LFA to train investigators for trials worldwide. Presently, she is evaluating a simplified outcome measure of lupus activity. It comes as no surprise that Dr. Merrill has been well funded by the NIH and private foundations and has published numerous articles in high impact journals. In short, Dr. Merrill brings a lifetime of dedication to the management of lupus patients, a contribution to our understanding of anti-phospholipid antibodies, novel design of prospective clinical trials in SLE, and critical teaching of the proper use of activity indices.