Major European study moves a step closer to treatments for severe asthma

An asthma patient being treated with an oxygen mask by a nurse
10 Sep 2015 00:01:00.000
PA 142/15

Initial findings from a major European study, involving academics at The University of Nottingham, have helped to identify key characteristics of severe asthma, which will help with the development of new treatments for patients with the condition.

The research, published online in the European Respiratory Journal, is one of the largest assessments of adults with severe asthma to date, looking at several characteristics including symptoms, patients’ quality of life and blood and airway measurements.

Lead researcher Dr Dominick Shaw, in the University’sDivision of Respiratory Medicine, said: “This study is the first to describe severe asthma across such a large cohort. Our findings are consistent with other recent descriptions of the condition and will enable us now to identify distinct asthma phenotypes or sub-groups.

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“Once we can break this condition down into different groups, patients can be swiftly and accurately diagnosed and individually treated by targeting the mechanisms that are driving their own disease. Once we can identify these new treatments, we can lessen the burden of this chronic and debilitating illness.”

Medical emergency

More than 30 million adults and children in Europe suffer from asthma and it is estimated that of these four per cent (approximately 1.2 million people) have severe asthma. People with the disease experience daily symptoms despite receiving high doses of medical treatment and are more likely to be admitted to hospital and to require emergency healthcare. This represents a significant burden on healthcare systems.

The U-BIOPRED (Unbiased BIOmarkers in PREDiction of respiratory disease outcomes) project, funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), was established in 2008 to better understand severe asthma and identify new treatment targets.

This study involved four groups of adult participants in 11 countries and followed them for over a year; 311 non-smokers with severe asthma, 110 smokers and ex-smokers with severe asthma, 88 patients with milder asthma and 101 healthy volunteers. As part of the study, blood, urine and sputum (mucus) samples were collected and lung function and other anatomical tests were performed.

The results found that patients with severe asthma had more symptoms and exacerbations compared to patients with mild-moderate disease. Severe asthma patients also reported worse quality of life and higher levels of anxiety and depression as well as more nasal polyps (small growths in the nose), acid indigestion and poorer lung function.

Persistent inflammation

A key finding is that although patients with severe asthma take greater amounts of anti-inflammatory treatment, including inhaled and oral steroids, they still had higher levels of inflammation in their airways.

The U-BIOPRED study will continue to publish findings from this cohort and a paediatric cohort in the coming months, including papers due to be presented at the European Respiratory Society’s International Congress including descriptions of the first classification of severe asthma types using different types of biological data.

The paper, Clinical and Inflammatory Characteristics of the European U-BIOPRED Adults Severe Asthma Cohort, can be viewed online on the European Respiratory Journal website.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and the winner of ‘Research Project of the Year’ at the THE Awards 2014. It is ranked in the world’s top one per cent of universities by the QS World University Rankings, and 8th in the UK by research power according to REF 2014.

The University of Nottingham in Malaysia (UNMC) is holding events throughout 2015 to celebrate 15 years as a pioneer of transnational education. Based in Semenyih, UNMC was established as the UK's first overseas campus in Malaysia and one of the first world-wide.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Dominick Shaw in the Division of Respiratory Medicine, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 823 1709 or by email at

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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