Researchers, Healthcare Companies Seek to Give COPD Patients Some Breathing Room

inhalerBreathing is one of the most basic human functions, but for an estimated 12 million people in the United States, the simple act of drawing a breath can be difficult and even painful. These patients suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive lung disease that causes breathing difficulties. COPD can cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms. It is typically caused by cigarette smoking, but can also result from long-term exposure to other lung irritants such as air pollution or dust. In the U.S., COPD includes the lung diseases emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Many COPD patients have both.


COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. There is no known solution to reverse the damage to the airways and lungs, so current treatments focus on improving quality of life and slowing disease progression. The two most popular therapies on the market are GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)’s Advair and Boehringer Ingelheim/Pfizer’s Spiriva. According to a new study by healthcare research firm Decision Resources, the market for COPD drugs in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, the UK and the USA totaled nearly $8.4 billion in 2009. Decision Resources forecasts that sales of drugs to treat COPD in these countries will grow 4.6% a year to reach more than $13 billion in 2019, driven by an aging population and an increase in diagnosis and treatment.


GSK and Theravance are currently testing Relovair, a potential successor to Advair. Both companies recently announced that Relovair was shown to improve lung function in patients with COPD in a mid-stage trial. GSK also sponsored the ECLIPSE study, a three-year study designed to provide a better understanding of what causes COPD. The study found that COPD patients with a history of disease flare-ups were most likely to experience frequent exacerbation episodes, regardless of disease severity. This suggests that there is a distinct subgroup of COPD patients who may have a genetic, biologic or behavioral mechanism that makes them particularly susceptible to flare-ups. Physicians may be able to target these high-susceptibility patients with therapies designed to prevent COPD flare-ups. The results of the study were published in the Sept. 16 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Other companies developing COPD therapies include the following:


Aridis, which is developing a novel anti-infective compound called Panaecin for the treatment of life-threatening bacterial lung infections in patients with COPD and other conditions.


Pulmonx is currently developing a new technology called endobronchial valve therapy, in which one-way valves are implanted in patients’ airways to control the flow of air into and out of diseased portions of the lung, for emphysema patients. Pulmonx gained control of the endobronchial valve therapy platform when it acquired Emphasys Medical in 2009. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh used the technology in a recent randomized trial. Patients showed improved lung function and exercise tolerance, but also demonstrated complications including COPD exacerbations, researchers found.


The pipeline of Amarillo Biosciences includes an oral interferon formulation for chronic cough. The company is currently funding a proof-of-concept study to evaluate oral interferon in the treatment of chronic cough in COPD and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis patients.


Revotar Pharmaceuticals, a German company focused on the development of small molecule anti-inflammatory drug candidates for respiratory conditions, is evaluating the compound Bimosiamose for patients with COPD. In June, the company announced that it had begun a Phase II clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of inhaled Bimosiamose in COPD patients.


The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), an organization dedicated to raising awareness of COPD and improve prevention and treatment of the disease, has a variety of resources for visitors to learn more about COPD. The organization was launched in collaboration with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, and the World Health Organization.World COPD Day takes place on the second or third Wednesday of November and is scheduled for November 17 this year. More information about COPD can be found at the GOLD website.

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