Breathing 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:
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