Spotlight on COPD research

Professor Peter Calverley, Specialty National Lead for Respiratory Disorders in 2014

“COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a major cause of ill health globally. According to the British Lung Foundation, 900,000 people in the UK have been diagnosed and it’s estimated that a further 2.8 million are unaware that they have it. 

There is no cure for this progressive and debilitating condition; no way of turning this particular clock back. Smoking is the major preventable cause of COPD and stopping smoking remains a major part of COPD care. However, we have to develop effective treatments for those already damaged by tobacco and also for patients with COPD where tobacco is not the main factor leading to their problems. This is a focus for much research activity in the Network and it’s thanks to research we have a range of treatments that help COPD patients to manage their disease. It’s only by doing more research that we will advance those treatments further.

Fortunately, the COPD research landscape is changing.

People live with COPD day in, day out. It stands to reason then, that in addition to medication to help manage periodic exacerbations (flare ups), they also want to optimise their quality of life the rest of the time. So, for example, how do they deal with everyday breathlessness in advanced disease, and related physical effects such as leg muscle wasting?

World COPD Day provides us with an opportunity to highlight the important role that UK research plays in combating this worldwide disease, whilst also taking a look at how this particular area of research is evolving.  An emphasis towards more patient-focused outcomes is emerging. As a result, new novel approaches and devices are now a major feature of COPD research.

The revolutionary “real-world” Salford Lung Study is held aloft as the first of its kind globally. By the same token, a handful of exciting studies using new innovative medical technologies (valves and coils) are now being rolled out for NHS patients to access. It’s for that reason that we’ve decided to shine a spotlight on these two areas of COPD research on World COPD Day.

OPD research is on the up

  • Over the last six years more than 35,000 patients have participated in COPD research studies supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network
  • Last year 2013/14 10,715 patients took part in COPD studies, compared to 1,514 in 2008/2009 – an increase of 708%
  • Since April 2008 the Network has supported a total of 184 COPD studies
  • Five minute guide to COPD and COPD research


Respiratory disorders research isn’t just about COPD; it covers all disorders including asthma, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis, lung disease and infections, lung cancer, pleural disease and breathing disorders.

The Respiratory disorders Specialty supports research across all of these areas. You can find out more by visiting the Respiratory disorders Specialty website. You can also learn about how we support clinical research studies in the NHS by visiting the Clinical Research Network webpages.

*The data referenced on these pages relates to COPD and was extracted from the NIHR CRN Open Data Platform on 29 October 2014.