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New study could unlock better asthma treatments

Southampton researchers are investigating a new drug that could help people with asthma.

The drug targets a gene that makes people more likely to develop asthma, called ADAM33.

It could offer fresh hope for patients whose asthma is unresponsive to existing treatments.

Southampton’s Dr Hans Michael Haitchi is leading the international study. Aiman Alzetani, a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at University Hospital Southampton, is also involved.

Both are researchers in the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre. They are part of the Respiratory and Allergy theme, which is developing new approaches that help reduce the risk of developing asthma.

Understanding asthma

Asthma is a common lung condition that causes breathing difficulties. Over 12% of people in the UK will receive an asthma diagnosis in their lifetime.

The exact cause of asthma is unknown. However, there are several genes that make people more likely to develop the condition – including ADAM33.

Previous research suggests that this gene changes the structure and function of the airways with more smooth muscle around them and associated airway ‘twitchiness’ (hyper-responsiveness). This means the walls of the airways are thicker and narrow too much in response to asthma triggers. This makes it difficult to breathe.

There are no existing treatments that target the underlying structural airway changes.

Collaborative research

The new study brings together researchers from around the world. They include Prof Jonathan K Watts from the University of Massachusetts and Prof Christian Ottensmeier from the University of Liverpool.

It follows an earlier study by the Southampton group that found 'switching off' the ADAM33 gene could stop asthma. Together with Prof Watts they have developed a new asthma drug, called anti-ADAM33 oligonucleotides, to investigate this further.

Dr Haitchi is an Associate Professor in Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton. He said:

“We believe that our ADAM33 specific oligonucleotides will allow us to target characteristics of the disease that are not treated by current asthma drugs.

“Our aim is to develop a new therapy that helps patients who aren’t responding to existing treatments.”

This pre-clinical study is funded by a UKRI grant from the Medical Research Council – Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme.

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