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The University of Southampton

Tackling respiratory diseases costing the UK £ billions

University of Southampton research has led to major advances in the understanding of respiratory diseases for which the lack of available treatments had global health repercussions. The formation of a spin-out company enabled the discovery and development of new therapeutics that are key to tackling conditions affecting millions in the UK alone and which cost the NHS billions each year.

Research Challenge

Respiratory diseases kill one in four people in the UK and cost the NHS £2.6bn each year. According to Asthma UK 5.2 million people receive treatment for asthma with 500,000 suffering severe symptoms because available treatments cannot control the disease. Acute chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) attacks are also the most common cause of hospitalisation in the country.


Southampton led research has sought to understand the underlying process of respiratory disease to develop new treatments minimising severity and preventing acute asthma and COPD attacks which cause hospitalisation or even death. Our work revolves around the use of human tissues and cells to explore different therapies for viral diseases.

Our Solution

Our collaborative research team developed the first complete gene-based tests to detect respiratory viruses in secretions and clearly established that viral infections cause asthma attacks, stimulating new research into treatment approaches.

Using controlled infection we found the pivotal role airway epithelium plays as a ‘host' to cold viruses and a direct link between lower respiratory tract infections and asthma attacks. Crucially our research uncovered that these cells can be protected against virus infection, a breakthrough in the search for a therapy.

These findings led to a patent filed for a treatment for asthma and COPD, licensed to a company set up by the University to turn research into world-changing drugs.

What was the impact?

Southampton studies have led to the discovery of a new drug under development by Synairgen Plc to address previously unmet clinical needs. Our original research is also shaping the development of new treatments for other serious viral infections such as avian and swine flu.

Media including the Daily Mail and the Huffington Post reported that our discoveries had the potential to be one of the biggest breakthroughs in asthma treatment.

Our researchers now act as advisers to government committees on tackling complex respiratory disease and £16.5m in follow-on funding has been awarded to further develop new treatments for respiratory illnesses.

According to Asthma UK 5.2 million people receive treatment for asthma with 500,000 suffering severe symptoms
Targeting the causes of disease

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