British Lung Foundation awards Professorships and funds pioneering research in neglected diseases

Posted by pt91 at Aug 17, 2017 01:12 PM |

Issued by the British Lung Foundation on 17 August 2017

The British Lung Foundation (BLF) have appointed three highly distinguished Research Chairs. They will bring pioneering research and international leadership to three disease areas - bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). These are incurable lung conditions identified as having a lack of effective treatments to halt disease progression, despite their heavy burden on patients.

The leading charity awarded the prestigious BLF Chair in Respiratory Research grant to Professor Toby Maher, Imperial College London, and the GSK/BLF Chair in Respiratory Research grant to Professor James Chalmers, University of Dundee, and Professor Louise Wain, University of Leicester in recognition of their world-class research in the fight against lung disease. Their forthcoming studies aim to newly discover processes in the diseases that may enable doctors to prescribe personalised treatment to patients. Worth £1.3m in total, the five year research projects are funded by the BLF, GSK, and their respective universities.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) has no known cause or cure, and no measures which can predict either future rate of disease progression or response to treatment. Only two treatments are approved in the UK, and neither prevent the disease progressing.

Professor Maher will seek to transform our understanding of the disease process which causes scarring to develop and progress in IPF and identify groups who may respond to personalised treatment, using samples already collected in three on-going studies of lung fibrosis. Professor Maher said: “Given the poor prognosis of IPF patients, they don’t have time to wait years for new treatments. I will be identifying blood-based biomarkers which could halve the time taken to validate new medicines, and running clinical trials with a focus on repurposing existing drugs to further cut the time taken to make novel treatments available to individuals with IPF.” He added: “As many as 1 in 10 individuals with IPF also develop episodes of acute exacerbation or infection each year, with these episodes leading to 50% of people dying within a month. I aim to reduce this through a home monitoring project empowering patients to spot early deterioration in their disease.”

As with IPF, COPD is an incurable condition, and one that leads to some people experiencing more severe symptoms than others. Though smoking has been identified as the biggest risk factor for COPD, 20% of people with COPD have never smoked, and not all smokers develop COPD. So we are still far from knowing why some people get this disease and others don’t.

Speaking about her research, Professor Wain said: “For both diseases there is a need to improve and increase treatment options. This research will also be fundamental in helping us to predict who will develop these conditions, and how a patient’s illness will progress.”

Professor Wain’s study will use innovative genetic approaches and an unprecedented wealth of data collated through international collaboration, to identify the genetic determinants of susceptibility to IPF and COPD. She added: “These findings will be combined with other clinical, gene expression and biomarker data, and will ultimately help us to predict disease risk and progression, enabling doctors to prescribe personalised medicine, and informing new drug development for IPF and COPD. It could bring real breakthroughs.”

Bronchiectasis causes the airways to expand so they are unable to clear mucus properly, leaving the lungs vulnerable to infection. Few treatments are proven to work in bronchiectasis, despite the 40% increase in patient numbers in the past 10 years in the UK.

Professor Chalmers, said: “We urgently need to develop new treatments for people with bronchiectasis, but we also need to target existing treatments better. There are many drugs already in the clinic which could improve patients’ lives but which aren’t being used in the right patients. This research aims to develop the tests we need to give the right drug to the right patient at the right time.”

Professor Chalmers research will identify different types of patients at the cellular level using state of the art gene sequencing and inflammation measurement technology. This information will be used to identify tests that can recognise types of infection or inflammation that may respond to personalised treatment. The project is linked to an unprecedented wealth of patient data and donated blood and sputum samples through a link with the European Bronchiectasis Register (www.bronchiectasis.eu) – making this the largest detailed endotyping study ever performed in bronchiectasis. Professor Chalmers added: “I’ll be aiming to show that we can predict which patients will get better in drug trials. This could revolutionise the way we do research in bronchiectasis.”

Ian Jarrold, Head of Research at the British Lung Foundation, commented:

“Our Professorships nurture and develop outstanding lung researchers who can bring ground-breaking research and international leadership to lung disease. 

“We witness first-hand the devastating consequences that the long-term neglect of lung disease can have on patients and their families. Considering the impact diseases like bronchiectasis, COPD and IPF have on a patient’s quality of life, the lack of support and treatment options available is wholly unacceptable.

“Professors Chalmers, Maher and Wain’s forthcoming work has the potential to improve our understanding of these diseases, and provide personalised medicine - something which has already led to huge improvements in the treatment of many cancers. Their work will provide families dealing with a lung disease diagnosis more hope for the future. We look forward to seeing them progress in their careers."

Notes to editors

For more information, please contact the British Lung Foundation press office on press@blf.org.uk / 020 7688 5580.

About the British Lung Foundation

The British Lung Foundation is the only UK charity fighting to help the 1 in 5 people in the UK affected by lung disease, by researching new treatments, campaigning for better awareness and services, and providing support and advice for patients, carers and family members. For further information, please visit www.blf.org.uk. For help and support, call the BLF Helpline on 03000 030 555. To donate £5 to help the BLF fight lung disease, please text LUNGS to 70500.

Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lunguk or join us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/britishlungfoundation

About the award

The awards to Doctors Wain and Chalmers are being funded from an endowment that GSK (the British pharmaceutical company) donated to the BLF, and will be known as a “GSK/BLF Chair in Respiratory Research” whereas the award to Professor Maher will be funded from BLF funds so will be a “BLF Chair in Respiratory Research”.

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