World Asthma Day 2017: The way forward for Asthma Research

World Asthma Day 2017 sees the publication of landmark asthma research papers.

02 May 2017

By Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma + Lung UK.

Asthma is a global health challenge. Despite recent research breakthroughs it remains poorly understood and ineffectively treated. Unreliable medications and complex treatment regimens mean that millions of people struggle to control their asthma. Uncontrolled asthma leads to asthma attacks. Asthma attacks kill three people a day, on average. This is unacceptable, but until recently we didn’t have agreement on where to focus or what to invest in to bring the greatest benefit; now, however, we do.

On World Asthma Day 2017 the European Respiratory Journal publishes three seminal papers resulting from the FP-7-funded pan-European Asthma Research & Innovation Partnership (EARIP) which provide an agreed blueprint for activities to transform asthma outcomes in Europe.

The Partnership brought together experts and leaders from across academia, patient groups and industry to form a set of high-level working groups. Over three years, the groups conducted a suite of research gap analyses, identifying and prioritising the areas of unmet need in asthma. Topics ranged from basic asthma mechanisms, asthma phenotypes, self-management and diagnosis to innovation in delivering health services. Each gap analysis provides the basis for a state-of-the-art academic publication that sets out how to improve our understanding in a specific area of asthma research. These then contribute to a ranked list of priorities that describe the activities required to reduce asthma attacks and hospitalisations by 40% across Europe. It is the first three of these papers that are published today.

The first paper is a roadmap for asthma research. It sets out 15 research, development and innovation priorities that if tackled would lead to new asthma treatments, better diagnostics and technology-enabled self-management tools that could transform asthma outcomes while generating billions of pounds for the UK life sciences sector. This represents an internationally agreed and scientifically robust blueprint for the development of new asthma treatments and health technologies and provides a clear to route to preventing and curing asthma.

The second paper is a complex review of what causes and drives asthma and asthma attacks. This work involved 30-40 academic and commercial scientists from disciplines covering all asthma types, including asthma triggered by pollution, viruses, hormones, pollens and stress.  It clearly sets out areas about which we know a lot, and areas where we little, highlighting where significant investment is needed. It also describes the methods, technologies and techniques we need to develop to generate new knowledge and then new treatments.

The third describes a vision for European collaboration to make all this activity happen. It outlines a series of recommendations for researchers, funders, policy makers and the pharmaceutical industry to follow, and calls on people with asthma to work with them to ensure research is firmly centred on their needs.

The European Asthma Research & Innovation Partnership has, through careful evidence-gathering and consensus-building, clarified the landscape and set out what needs to be done. What is needed now is investment in large team science projects where patients, industry and academia collaborate to tackle the 15 priorities. The return on this investment would be a vastly improved understanding of asthma that can be used to rapidly develop diagnostic tools, new treatments and technologies for which there is a huge global market. 

Global asthma prevalence is currently at 334 million and predicted to rise to 400 million by 2025, with particularly significant increases projected in China and India. The market for asthma medication and tech-enabled self-management tools is set to grow. The asthma therapeutics market is predicted to reach $25.6bn per annum by 2024 while the global market for digital health is expected to be £43bn by 2018. In short, the path mapped out by EARIP is both a scientific and economic opportunity.

The UK is ideally placed to seize this opportunity. It is a world leader in respiratory research.  Our science infrastructure includes leading pharmaceutical companies such as GSK and AstraZeneca alongside world-leading academics and world-class bio-informatics institutions. The UK is the logical choice to lead the joint effort to tackle the EARIP priorities.

EARIP has mapped out what we need to do to improve the lives of people with asthma. Now we must work together to make this a reality. If you are interested in collaborating with us to drive investment and focus in these vital areas of research, development and innovation, please get in contact with us.

You can read the 15 priorities in full, and find out more about the European Asthma Research & Innovation Partnership.

Dr Samantha Walker speaks at a conference

Dr Samantha Walker is Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director for Research & Policy at Asthma + Lung UK. She is the co-ordinator of the EU funded EARIP research project and leads the research and policy team’s effort to see more investment in asthma research.