By Josie Clarkson, Research Communications Lead, JDRF

Published: 23 August 2023

AMRC’s Festival of Partnerships is shining a light on partnering – how best to do it, the challenges it brings, and showcasing great examples from the sector. A highlight of the Festival so far has been hearing from our member charities about the diversity of ways in which to partner: with each other, industry, government and more. We didn’t think it was fair to keep all these insights to ourselves. So, in this ‘Showcasing Partnerships’ blog series we’ll be hearing from some of our charities about these partnerships, their challenges and successes, as well as lessons learnt.

In this blog, we hear from JDRF’s Research Communications Lead, Josie Clarkson, about the charity’s role in the Connect Immune Research partnership.

Tell us about your charity and the research it funds.

JDRF is the leading type 1 diabetes research charity. We fund world-class, international research to cure, treat and prevent type 1 diabetes and its complications. We work with government, academia and industry to accelerate research in the UK and within healthcare policy to ensure that the outcomes of research are delivered to people with type 1.

Our funding has led to the first ever disease-modifying treatment for type 1 and developed a revolutionary piece of technology called hybrid closed loop. We are even working on replacing the insulin-producing cells that the autoimmune attack destroys in type 1. As well as research, we support people affected by type 1, raise awareness of the condition, advocate for patients, and challenge misconceptions.

What is your role at your charity and what does a typical day look like for you?

I am the Research Communications Lead at JDRF UK. I speak to type 1 diabetes researchers and attend international diabetes conferences to find out the latest research updates. I share exciting progress with the public via news stories on our website and social media posts. I write research-related articles for our blog, such as people’s experiences of taking part in clinical trials. I also regularly visit JDRF-funded researchers across the UK in their labs to film them in action and show our audience behind the scenes of type 1 diabetes research.

Tell us about a partnership your charity has been involved in. 

Connect Immune Research is a partnership to accelerate the progression and impact of autoimmune research. Established in 2018 by JDRF UK, the MS Society, Versus Arthritis and the British Society for Immunology, the initiative now includes 11 autoimmune research organisations. A further £1 million partnership between the Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation and Connect Immune Research is funding ten pilot research projects focused on the links between autoimmune conditions. Recently, we welcomed Her Majesty The Queen to Professor Lucy Walker’s lab at University College London, where one of these pilot research projects is taking place. During the visit, Her Majesty learnt how the researchers are studying immune cells from people with type 1 diabetes.

What were the main benefits of this partnership as opposed to doing the same project alone?  

The Connect Immune Research partnership pools resources from its member organisations to fund vital research into the overlapping biology of autoimmune conditions. Working together will help us prevent and cure a whole range of autoimmune conditions, which together affect around four million people in the UK. Connect Immune Research continues to welcome new members, and growing our group of experts dedicated to finding root causes of autoimmune conditions accelerates us towards innovative new ways of treating autoimmunity. The more organisations we have working together, the closer we’ll be to achieving this common goal.

What makes charities such good partners?

Charities make great research partners because we are so embedded in the community of the people with the conditions we’re researching. We know what patients want and have the passion and drive to deliver it. Because most of our funding comes from donations from our generous supporters, we are committed to spending this money on research that serves the community. For type 1 diabetes, this means funding research that improves the lives of people already living with the condition while we work on eradicating it for good.

What are the main challenges you’ve faced in partnerships and how did you overcome them?

Resourcing! Charities operate using as little resource as possible to save precious funds. So, it is inevitable that everyone involved in developing a new partnership has lots of other work to do at the same time, which can make progress feel slow. Sorting out budgets can also be hard, sometimes because of a difference in scale between charities, but also because of practical things, where financial years and planning cycles don’t quite align. As with any challenge, the way to get past these difficulties is open, clear communication. If you are clear about your needs and where you may be able to flex, solutions can always be found.

If you could give one tip to another charity entering a similar partnership, what would it be?

Partnerships can achieve things that one organisation alone cannot do, but they need time to get right. You need to be prepared to invest time in communicating with each other as well as with internal colleagues to ensure a strong shared understanding of the partnership and its goals. If you give yourself enough time, your partnership will achieve incredible things.

If your charity has a partnership you’d like to share via this blog series, we want to hear from you! Get in touch with Ellen at [email protected]. Read other blogs in the series on our Festival of Partnerships: blogs page.

Connect Immune Research logo
Her Majesty the Queen at a visit to Professor Lucy Walker’s lab
at University College London