Asthma research in Wales: the opportunity

There are over 314,000 people with asthma in Wales – or one in 10 – one of the highest prevalence rates of asthma in the world.

At our reception at the Welsh Assembly earlier this year, we heard from Kaitey Downer who shared her story of the devastating impact that asthma can have on someone’s livelihood. Kaitey spoke of how her asthma had put her employment at risk due persistent time off sick. Aware of the impact of asthma in Wales, the Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James, expressed her support for the expansion of asthma research.

Building on this support we recently met with the Minister. We highlighted how the European Asthma Research and Innovation Partnership (EARIP) had brought together scientists, people with asthma and industry to produce a roadmap of the 15 priority areas for asthma research; and we discussed with the Minister the advantages of taking forward asthma research in Wales.

Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James with Asthma UK’s Chief Executive, Kay Boycott

Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James with Asthma UK’s Chief Executive, Kay Boycott

Wales’ unique data linkage system

Wales is home to a unique data linkage system, the SAIL Databank at Swansea University, which securely and anonymously links data from GPs and hospitals. This presents opportunities to better understand the impact of efforts to prevent asthma attacks and therefore hospitalisations. This ability to map impact across a population is critical to research on how technology, such as smart inhalers, could be used to help manage asthma.

Attracting world class researchers

Wales’ infrastructure is matched by its ambition on academic research. To increase the quality and quantity of world class research being undertaken in Wales, the Welsh Government developed the £50m Sêr Cymru (“Star Wales”) programme, which provides funding to attract elite academics. Emphasising the government’s commitment, the Sêr Cymru programme was renewed in 2016 with a further £60m of funding.

An epicentre of life sciences innovation

In addition to attracting leading researchers, the Welsh Government’s Science for Wales strategy places life sciences as one of their three grand challenges. The creation of a £100m public-private Life Sciences Investment Fund, a Life Sciences Research Network and Life Sciences Hub has created the conditions to place Wales at the heart of an emerging global economic sector. Unsurprisingly, there is already discussion of further investment funds being established.

This combination of unique data systems, ambition to increase the quality of research and commitment to life sciences, means Wales is strongly positioned to undertake pioneering asthma research. By working closely with the Welsh Government we hope to secure funding for the next breakthrough in asthma research, which could minimise the impact of asthma on the lives of people like Kaitey.