The Role of Research in Addressing Asthma

Izzy Okparanta

Fostering strong partnerships between clinicians and researchers is the key to speeding the discovery and implementation of new asthma treatments, said Judith Woodfolk, MBChB, Ph.D., professor of medicine, Division of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, Department of Medicine, University of Virginia School of Medicine, during Research!America’s asthma research briefing in Washington, D.C. on May 15. Woodfolk was joined by other experts spanning government, industry and the patient community for a panel discussion about research to prevent, treat and ultimately cure severe asthma. Eleanor Perfetto, Ph.D., M.S., senior vice president of strategic initiatives at the National Health Council, moderated the discussion.

In addition to partnering with each other, clinicians and researchers must partner with families, community organizations like recreation centers, and schools to give individuals – particularly children – a better understanding of the research behind their treatments and ensure proper adherence, said Tyra Bryant-Stephens, M.D., medical director of the Community Asthma Prevention Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We want every sector that touches a child’s life to have the educational tools they need to take care of these high risk children,” she said.

Conversations with asthma patients would help determine whether their treatments are working and identify any roadblocks with adherence to medication, added Cara Kraft, RRT/RCP, AE-C, director of research and evaluation, Allergy and Asthma Network. “Part of research and part of partnering with our thought leaders on the industry side [and] with our government agencies is to include the patient voice and patient engagement,” she said. “It’s crucial for innovation and moving forward.”

Tackling asthma means addressing the environmental factors that cause it, such as indoor and outdoor environmental toxins and irritants, said Peter Gergen, M.D., medical officer, Allergy, Asthma and Airway Biology Branch, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Although interventions like professional home cleanup have been found to significantly improve asthma symptoms, the traditional method of payment for care doesn’t allow for that to happen, he said. “So I think the policies need to evolve or be flexible enough as advances come in asthma treatment – non-traditional [treatments], not just biologics.”

Rohit Katial, M.D., allergist, U.S. Medical Respiratory Expert, GlaxoSmithKline, said improving patient quality of life should be the main driver of research and research funding. “I know the economics of medicine are important and they drive everything but I can tell you on an individual patient level, the magnitude, the change and the impact some of these new therapies can have may not have a dollar sign on it,” he noted.

“Obviously the research funding should be prioritized,” Woodfolk said. “But it doesn’t hold much water if our patients don’t have access to care. We can do all the fancy things on the bench but ultimately these have to be translatable.”

Click here to view photos from the event.

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If concerted, long-term investments in research are not made, America will lose an entire generation of young scientists.
Brenda Canine, PhD; McLaughlin Research Institute, Montana