Asthma UK believes action is urgently needed to improve the prospects for people with severe asthma. In our report we reveal the challenges of treating this complex condition and the opportunity for the scientific community to come together to make exciting new treatments available more quickly.
Severe asthma has a devastating impact on approximately 200,000-250,000 people in the UK, of whom around 50,000 are on the highest level of treatment. A proportion of these patients will also be treated within specialised services.
Current treatments for severe asthma are extremely limited, with many people relying on oral corticosteroids to control symptoms, which can cause toxic and debilitating side effects when taken over the long term. But as understanding of severe asthma has developed, there is hope that in the future therapies targeted at an individual’s asthma may become available, which would reduce exacerbations and the need to take oral steroids.
Download our report to read our full recommendations.
Achieving precision medicine for asthma
Asthma is increasingly recognised as having distinct phenotypes with different biological markers, which provides opportunities to target specific treatments to an individual’s severe asthma (an approach called ‘precision medicine’).
Targeted treatments have in recent years been approved in the UK for severe allergic asthma (omalizumab) and severe eosinophilic asthma (mepolizumab). However, there is a significant diagnostic gap in severe asthma, with no test able to accurately determine what type of severe asthma a person has. There is also a pressing need for simple and minimally invasive tests – particularly for children.
There is also a need for more research to help to better expand current biomarkers to help identify the full range of severe asthma types.
Focusing research to fill the gaps
While there is an encouraging pipeline of new treatments in development targeted at severe eosinophilic asthma, the outlook for the remaining types of severe asthma (around 60%) looks bleak in comparison. To ensure consistent progress towards comprehensive and effective treatment, focused funding calls for research into mechanisms, targets and treatments to address this unmet need will be required.
National and international collaboration across different academic disciplines are needed that bring the best scientists together to learn from other disciplines and disease areas. New partnerships would have the potential to build capability and capacity in severe asthma research, develop the UK’s life sciences capability and international stature, identify a new generation of leading scientists and speed up discoveries that will transform the lives of people with severe asthma.
Leading the global research challenge
There is a substantial treatment gap for people with severe asthma, but there are a number of promising research developments to be built on.
UK industry and researchers can lead the global challenge to develop accurate diagnostics and treatments for the global population of people with severe asthma.
In addition, a strategic approach to research needs to take place that builds on the developing biomarkers to place severe asthma at the centre of personalised medicine.
Without significant research investment, the substantial gaps in treatment will remain and new treatments will be decades away.