Lynchpin in $220M fight against breathlessness

The NIHR Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit (BRU) played a central role in stimulating a $220M drug development programme aimed at minimising the impact of the common cold and other viruses on asthma and COPD sufferers.

Key points

  • A $220M deal will see AstraZeneca develop inhaled interferon beta (IFNβ) under license from University of Southampton spin-out company Synairgen
  • The BRU played a key role in translational research needed to move from key immunological mechanisms to clinical trials
  • Key in the conduct of all the Phase I and II trials that underpin this deal and the evidence for further development

Jump to our infographic summary here.

Limiting the impact of viral exacerbations

The novel therapy uses inhaled (IFNβ) treatment as a means of reducing the severity and duration of life-threatening exacerbations in asthma and COPD. Initially developed by Synairgen, a University of Southampton spin-out company drawing on work conducted in the university’s Brooke Laboratories, it is now licensed to AstraZeneca in a $220M deal. 

Fighting breathlessness

5.4 million people are receiving treatment for asthma in the UK, with over 1,000 deaths due to severe asthma exacerbations each year. Respiratory infections caused by viruses trigger 80% of these dangerous exacerbations, and better management of these infections is a key target for reducing deaths and improving quality of life.

“Our approach aims to reduce the likelihood of exacerbations, and is based on our observations in the early 2000s linking immunodeficiency in asthmatics with markedly lower levels of interferon beta in their lung epithelia,” explains Principal Investigator and Southampton NIHR Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit Director Professor Ratko Djukanovic.

From discovery...

Critical to the discovery of low interferon levels in asthmatics were studies conducted via the BRU and NIHR Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility’s (NIHR WTCRF) integrated translational infrastructure.

“Without these superb, jointly managed facilities we could not have developed the lung model platform needed to characterise, and modulate the immunological status of lung epithelium,” comments Professor Djukanovic.

To translation

The Phase I and Phase II studies conducted over the course of a decade which established inhaled interferon's potential were conducted via the BRU through the NIHR WTCRF.

“This was invaluable in our experimental and early phase work that took us to the deal with AstraZeneca,” explains Synairgen CEO Richard Marsden.

“This specialist respiratory research capability, integrated with both the regional asthma service and the NIHR WTCRF means that high quality and challenging clinical trials can be completed in a timely manner.”

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