Making the UK a lung research superpower will save lives

Medical MRI Scan of lungs on a screen
Image © da_kuk | istock

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Innovation at Asthma + Lung UK, explains why prioritising lung research is the best way to improve the nation’s health

Lung conditions are the third biggest killer in the UK, yet only receive 2% of public investment in research that would help diagnose, treat and manage them much more effectively. Funding for lung research lags desperately behind investment into researching other conditions, such as cancer and heart disease.

For each person currently living with a chronic lung condition, less than £8 is invested in respiratory research. Compare this to cancer research, where more than £160 is invested for each person currently living with cancer. This level of investment is leading to life-saving cancer treatments; now we need to see a similar level of funding for those with lung conditions.

Over the past decade, outcomes for people with lung conditions have not improved anywhere near the same extent as other disease areas, such as heart disease and cancer. At Asthma + Lung UK, we want to give lungs a fighting chance.

Give lungs a fighting chance

The Office for Life Sciences, part of the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, had the plan to create a thriving science sector in the UK and planned to tackle the major causes of death and disease. Identifying the following areas: dementia, cancer, vaccine discovery, heart disease, obesity, respiratory disease, ageing and mental health as the greatest healthcare challenges, which could also drive economic growth. However, a respiratory mission has so far failed to materialise, representing a missed opportunity to improve people’s lung health in the UK.

Now, with the Government recently showing a renewed commitment to science with the UK Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, they are perfectly placed to reinstate their commitment to lung health. The Government must use the opportunity to drive the discovery of new technologies and innovations to improve the nation’s lung health, which would also ease pressure on an overstretched NHS.

Every year lung conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cost the UK more than £11 billion. However, lung health is still chronically underinvested in by governments and health services. Right now, one in five people will develop a lung condition in their lifetime.

The poor state of the nation’s lung health is partly due to the dangerous misconception that lung conditions aren’t life-threatening. Sadly, breathlessness is often accepted as something people must cope with as part of everyday life. Every five minutes, someone dies from a lung condition in the UK. Despite lung conditions’ impact on the nation’s health, lung research doesn’t receive its fair share of funding. This must change.

The UK’s world-leading respiratory science base

If the Government were to capitalise on the UK’s world-leading respiratory science base and invest in research to help treat and cure lung conditions such as asthma and COPD, it could drive economic growth in the UK. This significant inward investment could save millions of people’s lives here and across the world.

In 2021 the global respiratory treatments, diagnostics and digital respiratory devices market was worth nearly $187 billion. Suppose the Government seizes this moment to make the UK the best place in the world to do lung research. In that case, it could lead the way in technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing and make personalised medicine a reality.

To make progress in lung health in the UK, funding must increase, and a favourable environment for lung research and innovation must be fostered. Collaboration across public and private funders will create an ecosystem worth more than the sum of its parts. This will lead to significant breakthroughs in how lung conditions are diagnosed, treated and managed.

Early steps that would improve the landscape for lung research include building a UK-wide platform to host respiratory data that connects scientists, developing cutting-edge diagnostic tools, accelerating the discovery of life-saving treatments, driving forward people-led innovation that could transform self-management of lung conditions, and increasing our understanding of early disease progression targeting underlying causes.

But this isn’t all down to the Government. If the UK is serious about saving the nation’s lung health, we’ll also need the backing of academia, industry, technology and the NHS to participate in this transition. This re-imagining of the way that the UK should conduct science into improving lung health will take increased funding, sharing of expertise and support to forge a new path. This is why Asthma + Lung UK has produced a new report titled ‘Making the UK a Lung Science Superpower’ and provide a blueprint for a Lung Research and Innovation Institute to bring this vision to life.

Currently, the UK spends a mere £47 million per year from the public purse on research into lung conditions – out of a total of £2.56 billion spent on health research. This isn’t enough to make the scale of change required. Asthma + Lung UK is urging the sector to raise the annual UK public investment in lung health to £150 million.

Making the UK the best place in the world for lung research

With the right investment to develop new cross-sector collaborations, research and innovation can play a vital role in saving and improving the lives of more than 12 million people in the UK. With the goal to reduce the morbidity and mortality of people with lung conditions by 20% by 2027.

At Asthma + Lung UK, we are committed to making the UK the best place in the world to do respiratory research and fight for better outcomes for all those affected by lung conditions. If Rishi Sunak is serious about making the UK a science superpower, investing in lung health is the way to put the UK on the map.

Contributor Profile

Director of Research and Innovation
Asthma + Lung UK
Phone: +44 (0)300 222 5800
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  1. Your post really resonated with me. I’ve been struggling with the same issues and your insights were incredibly helpful. Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable in your writing.

  2. Your post was so inspiring! I love how you shared your personal experience with Asthma, and the way you framed it as a learning opportunity. It’s so refreshing to see someone approach challenges with such a positive attitude.


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