Medical Research Council (MRC), Asthma UK and leading pharmaceuticals announce major investment into asthma research

The Medical Research Council (MRC) today announced a £4.8 million investment in an innovative new research programme that aims to transform the way severe asthma is diagnosed and managed and to pave the way for the development of new treatments. Being driven by leading clinical and academic experts from the UK, the United Kingdom Refractory Asthma Stratification Programme (RASP-UK) is a partnership between the MRC, Asthma UK and a group of pharmaceutical companies, who are also contributing 4.8 million, to the programme. The initiative is being led by Professor Liam Heaney, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Queen's University Belfast.

The objective of the programme is to change the way severe asthma is managed in the clinic and to deliver a more personalised treatment approach to individual patients. It is generally accepted that the current 'one size fits all' approach to asthma treatment, which incrementally increases the amount of therapy even though patients continue not to respond, is failing patients with severe asthma. Half the burden of asthma on healthcare resources is incurred by these 20% of patients with severe disease who remain poorly controlled despite use of all currently available therapies.

The programme will investigate novel strategies to deliver available treatments, which will be better tailored to individual needs of patients. Importantly, it will also investigate why some patients fail to respond to current treatments, in order to identify potential new drug treatments.

Professor Liam Heaney of Queen's University Belfast said today: "This is a hugely important time for patients with severe asthma who experience very significant symptoms on a daily basis and are constantly at risk of life-threatening asthma attacks. For years, our patients have struggled with the side-effects of high dose treatments, particularly oral steroids, which fail to deliver disease control in many people. Everyone's enthusiasm for the project has been enormous and we are grateful to the MRC for recognising the importance of seizing this opportunity. All our partner organisations are hugely committed to delivering personalised and optimised treatment for our patients with severe asthma. This programme is a first giant step in that direction."

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Policy and Research at Asthma UK, said: "Asthma is a complex condition that affects 1 in 11 people in the UK, yet years of research underfunding means the condition remains poorly understood. Asthma UK is proud to be part of the talented group that will pave the way for new treatments. In this collaboration we combine the technologies, scientists and organisations that will enable us to make the progress needed to speed up the time it takes for new treatments to reach people with asthma. Research programmes like this help us to move away from the one size fits all approach and bring us closer to offering more targeted, personalised care for this much misunderstood long-term condition. We need to see more investment in research like this so that life-changing treatments become a reality."

Dr John Matthews of Roche, Pharmaceutical Industry Partner Lead for the Programme, said today that this is critical collaborative research to ensure we are able to deliver "the right drugs for the right patients at the right time."

If you are interested in finding about out more about our research, or opportunities to get involved in the future you can email us at research@asthma.org.uk. To stay up to date with Asthma UK you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.