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Asthma: Medical Research Council announce £4.8 million investment in innovative new research programme

The () has 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 , 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”.

The award is part of a £13.7 million investment in stratified medicine collaborations funded by the MRC that was announced by the UK Minister for Life Sciences, George Freeman. Speaking at the London Stock Exchange this morning (Thursday 29th January), George Freeman said: “The UK is a world-leader in the life sciences and the sector is central to economic growth. Since the launch of our UK Strategy for Life Sciences in 2011 the industry has agreed over £3.5 billion of investment in the UK, which is expected to create over 11,000 jobs”.

Professor Sir John Savill, the MRC’s chief executive, said: “The goal of stratified medicine is to provide patients with the best treatments by ensuring that existing medicines are targeted at those who will derive most benefit but also by accelerating the development of new therapies. Achieving this goal requires partnerships that harness the diverse mix of knowledge, expertise and commitment of academia, industry and patients. Here in the UK, we’re ideally placed to be at the forefront of this field because we can combine excellence in research with access to some of the highest quality clinical resources and data in the world. This is attracting small, medium and large companies from across the UK and internationally to partner with us. The consortia we are supporting are keen to work with new partners and we shall be considering further disease areas that might benefit from this approach.”


Source: Medical Research Council (MRC)