Dynamic partnership wins major funding to fight lung disease

05 Jun 2015 12:27:57.567

Scientists are moving closer to new treatments for chronic lung disease thanks to an internationally-renowned collaboration between The University of Nottingham, The University of Leicester and an East Midlands genetics company, Source BioScience. 

The partnership has announced it has attracted new investment to the region worth £900,000 from the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer which is backing research into respiratory genomics as the key to better management and treatment of serious lung conditions.

An additional £50,000 research and development grant from the Healthcare and Bioscience iNet will help the scientists develop more powerful studies to unravel the genetic causes of lung diseases like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma.

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COPD causes a large reduction in lung function. It affects around 1 in 10 adults above the age of 40 and is the fourth most common cause of death worldwide. Smoking is the major risk factor for development of COPD. Lung function and COPD tend to cluster within families, indicating that variations in genes also predispose individuals to reduced lung function.

The East Midlands-based collaboration builds on the work of a consortium of 96 scientists in 63 centres in Europe and Australia, led by Professor Ian Hall, Dean of The University of Nottingham Medical School and Deputy Director of the Nottingham Biomedical Research Unit in Respiratory Diseases and Professor Martin Tobin, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Public Health at The University of Leicester.

Their previous research has shed light on the molecular basis of lung diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and asthma. The work involved a genetic study of 2.5 million sites across the human genome involving samples from 20,000 people across the world. They discovered five genetic variants that are associated with the health of the human lung which could eventually lead to better targeting of drugs for lung diseases. 

Spurred on by this success Professor Hall and Professor Tobin are developing their partnership to extend their respiratory genomics research at both universities with the services of Nottingham-based international diagnostic and genetic analysis company, Source Bioscience, which provides the latest in DNA sequencing and other genomic services.

The Pfizer and iNet grants will allow the partners to develop more extensive and detailed studies to search for common genetic variants across the human genome and to examine in detail the millions of nucleotides, (the molecules that make up the structural units of RNA and DNA), that make up the parts of the genome so far linked to lung function. In the past it has been difficult to develop new treatments because the molecular pathways that affect lung health are not completely understood. It is hoped the newly discovered pathways could in the future be targeted by drugs, delivering more personally tailored medicine.

Professor Ian Hall said: “By identifying the genes important in determining lung function, we can start to unravel the underlying mechanisms which control both lung development and lung damage. This will lead to a better understanding of diseases such as COPD and asthma. Crucially, it could open up new opportunities to manage and treat patients with lung conditions”.

Professor Tobin said: “Rapid advances in genetics have provided new tools to study the causes of disease. Studies can now examine the effects of more than a million genetic variants in each study participant. Such genome-wide association studies have led to long-awaited breakthroughs in understanding the genetics of some common diseases.”

Dr Nick Ash, CEO of Source BioScience said: “ We believe our UK-leading expertise and capacity in ultra-fast DNA sequencing can help the teams at Nottingham and Leicester make significant inroads into the understanding of lung disease, and in the long term, lead to the development of targeted and personalised drugs to treat patients. We look forward to working with the teams from Leicester and Nottingham Universities on this lung disease study.”

Dr Ian Barr, director of the Healthcare and Bioscience iNet added: “If the UK is going to retain its strong international position in healthcare and bioscience research, we need world-beating collaborations like this one that can attract funding from the private sector. Bringing people together from different organisations and turning them into effective collaborations is not easy but is more likely to happen through initiatives such as the iNet and its CRD grant.”

The Healthcare and Bioscience iNet is funded by the East Midlands Development Agency (emda) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘Europe’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

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Healthcare and Bioscience iNet

The Healthcare and Bioscience iNet helps people in the sector, particularly in East Midlands’ businesses and universities, to develop new technologies, processes, products and services in order to build a healthy economy.

Innovation is a key strategic priority for East Midlands Development Agency (emda). Four sector specific Innovation Networks (iNets), including Healthcare and Bioscience, have been established to help turn innovative ideas in to business opportunities.

The iNet concept was developed by emda and East Midlands Innovation (the Regional Science and Industry Council) to bring together businesses, colleges, universities, public sector representatives and individuals with a shared interest in a market or the technology that underpins it.

A key aim of iNet is to provide a sector-specific focus that enables organisations to exchange knowledge and form collaborations to exploit new ideas.

The Healthcare and Bioscience iNet is based at BioCity in Nottingham, a renowned life science industry centre of excellence but it covers the whole region.

Story credits

More information is available from Louise Third on +44 (0)115 912 4350 Integra Communications for Healthcare and Bioscience iNet

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