East Midlands Life Sciences Researchers and GSK launch medicines discovery collaboration for lung disease

The Universities of Leicester and Nottingham have announced a new strategic research collaboration with GSK, using genetics to aid the development of new medicines for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and related airway disorders. The £1.24m investment over three years provides an East Midlands- focused boost to the Life Sciences Sector Deal of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy. 

COPD affects around 65 million people worldwide, including 1.2 million people in the UK. It is a debilitating disease that causes narrowing of the airways leading to breathlessness and a greatly reduced quality of life. Smoking is a strong risk factor for COPD, but not all people affected by COPD are smokers and not all smokers develop the disease. In addition, amongst those who already have COPD, there is variation in severity of disease and how quickly the disease progresses. 

Scientists at the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham will combine large-scale computational analyses and laboratory experiments to understand the genetic and biological reasons why some people with COPD experience frequent exacerbations and/or different rates of disease progression. The research will provide valuable insight into disease pathology and, by working in partnership with scientists at GSK who will provide their drug discovery expertise, will accelerate discovery and development of innovative treatments for COPD and related airway diseases. 

This collaboration unites the NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs) of Leicester and Nottingham – partnerships between their respective universities, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and Leicester’s Hospitals - and the Leicester Precision Medicine Institute. The purpose of the NIHR BRCs is to take scientific discoveries and translate them into treatments and care pathways for the direct benefit of patients. The Leicester Precision Medicine Institute provides university, NHS and industry expertise in medicines discovery and better targeting of treatment to improve health. 

Professor Louise Wain, British Lung Foundation Chair in Respiratory Research at the University of Leicester said: “We know that genetics plays an important role in determining who will develop COPD but we don’t yet understand why there is such variation 

in how severe the disease can be and why some people experience a more rapid worsening of symptoms than others. We’re excited to combine the translational research strengths of the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham, with those of GSK to benefit people living with COPD.” 

Professor Ian Hall, Director at the NIHR Nottingham BRC said, 

“I am delighted that our research group in Nottingham and the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre is a partner in this collaboration which builds on extensive existing links between Leicester and Nottingham and excellent discovery science at GSK. Collaborations such as this, where each partner brings unique strengths to the research programme, are essential to drive forwards the drug discovery process to help identify the best individualised treatment options for patients with lung conditions such as COPD.” 

Professor Chris Brightling, NIHR Senior Investigator and Respiratory theme lead at the NIHR Leicester BRC said: “By pooling the expertise in respiratory research of Leicester and Nottingham Biomedical Research Centres with scientists at GSK, we have an exciting opportunity to learn more about the genetics behind why two patients with COPD do not display exactly the same symptoms, their illnesses do not worsen at the same rate, nor respond to treatments in the same way. This insight will allow us to discover and develop new treatments for COPD in the future that will be better tailored to meet the needs of individual patients and improve their quality of life.” 

Dave Allen, Head, Respiratory Therapy Area, R&D, GSK, said: 

“We have been developing respiratory medicines for almost 50 years and continue to be committed to increasing our understanding of diseases like COPD. Advances in genomics, computational science and cellular biology have great potential to increase disease understanding, and hence bring benefit to patients by the development of innovative medicines and better understanding of how to use existing medicines. Realising this potential needs academic and industry researchers to work together and we are pleased to continue our investment in UK-based research by working with two renowned UK academic institutes.”