£8.8 million to speed up gene discoveries for lung conditions

A new £8.8 million project led by the University of Leicester aims to accelerate the process for finding new treatments for lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and pulmonary fibrosis.

The project combines expertise in data science, genomics and cutting-edge laboratory techniques for the first time, in a ‘one-stop shop’ for discovering new genes linked to lung function, in collaboration with University of Nottingham and University of Cambridge.

It could lead to faster identification of drug targets and accelerate the process of developing new treatments for lung conditions like COPD and asthma.

The new eight-year project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, builds on existing research by the multidisciplinary team in identifying genetic markers for lung function and COPD. Lung function is how well the lungs are performing in terms of shifting air in and out, and in conditions such as asthma and COPD this is made more difficult by narrowing of the airways.

Novel and cutting-edge science from each of the collaborating institutions will be brought together for the first time in a collaborative approach to tackling this problem. This will seamlessly connect the discovery of new genetic associations, from studies of many hundreds of thousands of participants, to the laboratory research that will analyse those genes and identify whether they are good candidates for new drug development.

Chronic respiratory disease, such as COPD, is the third leading cause of death globally and in the UK accounts for 6% disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), but only 2% of research spend.

Principal Investigator Professor Martin Tobin of the University of Leicester said: “Many of those genetic markers are also relevant for lung diseases like asthma and pulmonary fibrosis, as well as COPD, and together those diseases cause an enormous amount of ill health and burden on the NHS. If we can better understand their causes we can also better understand what treatments are likely to work in the future, and there's an urgent need for improved treatments for these conditions.

“Bringing teams from the Universities of Leicester, Nottingham and Cambridge with expertise spanning genomics, data science and cell biology into a single project means that we can speed up the steps leading to new treatments.

“We can also, through the same process, identify whether there are proteins for which there are already existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat lung diseases. And that process can be much quicker than and cheaper than the development of an entirely new drug.”

  • This research will be supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centres in Leicester and Nottingham. The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is the research partner of the NHS, public health and social care.