They hope to find out whether using an old drug can help a relatively new medication work better as a treatment for the common lung condition Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
It is hoped that the research will bring real benefits to patients within a fraction of the time needed to develop and test brand new drugs.
The research team are looking for 1400 volunteers who have had two or more chest infections in the previous year to see if a combination of drugs can make a difference.
The lung disorder, previously called chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is the sixth leading cause of death in the UK, causing 28,000 deaths a year.
Lead researcher Dr Andrew Wilson, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “COPD causes narrowing of the airways, which in turn causes breathing problems, and often a persistent cough and chest infections. There is no cure for COPD – which costs the NHS £1 billion per year – and it can be hard to treat.”
Inhaled steroids are currently commonly used to treat COPD, alongside asthma.
However unlike their effectiveness with asthma, the airways of people with COPD are somewhat resistant to steroids.
The new research will see patients treated with low doses of a drug called theophylline, in conjunction with inhaled steroids. Theophylline used to be used to treat COPD on its own but its use at high dose as a drug to open up airways has declined with the development of new inhaled treatments.
Dr Wilson added: “Current treatments are not terribly effective so this will be a very important study. People with COPD often suffer episodes when the disease suddenly worsens, often caused by infection. This results in a speeding up of the rate of decline of lung function as well as reduced quality of life and admission to hospital.
“It is great to be involved in this important study. It is a national study of enough patients to tell us whether theophylline works in patients with COPD. If it does, it will be an important treatment.”
The research is being led by the University of Aberdeen, in collaboration with UEA. It will also involve consultants from the Norfolk and Northwich University Hospital, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (Freeman hospital), Aintree University Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, Hull Royal Infirmary and South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust.
The study maps to a key NHS priority and is funded by the NHS’ own research funds from the Health Technology Assessment Programme.
Steven Wibberley, director of Operations and Innovation at the British Lung Foundation, said: “Research is key to improving the lives of people affected by COPD and other lung diseases, which is why the BLF is supporting this major new research project and encouraging people living with COPD to get involved. By doing so they could help improve care and find new effective treatment options for themselves, and patients throughout the country and beyond.”
Potential volunteers and those wishing to find out more about the study known as the TWICS – Theophylline With Inhaled Corticosteroids – should contact Sue Robinson or Claire Brockwell on 01603 289876.
University of East Anglia – Communications Office