In the United States, November is COPD Awareness Month, which provides the COPD community with a distinct time to come together with one voice to focus on increasing awareness of the disease.

 

Throughout most of his life, every time he took a breath, Gil felt like there was a belt tightening around his chest. Diagnosed with severe asthma at age two, Gil faced extreme difficulty performing basic activities like sleeping and sometimes even speaking, as well as constant anxiety that a life-threatening asthma attack could be moments away.

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Gil’s story is not uncommon. Respiratory diseases are a major health burden in the U.S., particularly chronic diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Together, these two diseases affect more than 40 million people in the U.S. with various allergies combined affecting more than 50 million people every year. Many of these diseases can have a tremendous impact on a patients day-to-day functioning, and some can be life-threatening.

 

  • COPD: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Exposure to tobacco smoke is the main cause of COPD, although air pollution, family history and respiratory infections can increase COPD risk. In the United States, rural areas display higher diagnosis rates and death rates from COPD, compared to urban areas. There is no cure, but the condition can be treated.

  • Asthma: A condition causing hyperreactivity of the airways of the lungs, asthma results from inflammation in the air passages caused by genetic, environmental factors, or both. It is the most common chronic condition among children in the U.S., with more than 6 million children and 20 million adults affected. Every day, 10 Americans die from asthma, and from 2008-2013, asthma resulted in an economic toll of more than $81.9 billion—driven by medical costs and loss of work and school days. 

  • Allergies: Allergies result when the immune system reacts to an allergen, such as tree pollen, dust mites or food. Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in America. 

Given the continued toll these respiratory conditions take, America’s biopharmaceutical researchers are dedicated to advancing science and developing solutions to address asthma, allergies and COPD. 

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One of these researchers, René, has devoted her life’s work to the development and launch of biologic treatments for respiratory conditions like Gil’s. According to René, recent advancements are offering hope that personalized medicine can play a key role in diagnosing and treating these diseases. Among the more than 100 medicines in development are: 

 

  • 39 for COPD, including a medicine that acts an antagonist of the chemokine receptor (CXCR2), which can potentially reduce inflammation in COPD by inhibiting the activity of white blood cells in response to lung tissue damage. When over-activated, these blood cells can result in additional tissue damage by releasing proteases, stimulating mucus secretion and other negative lung events. 

  • 54 medicines in development for asthma, including a potential first-in-class medicine in development for asthma, blocks TSLP, an immune system messenger protein that is critical in the development and persistence of inflammation of the airways. 

  • 12 for allergies with respiratory symptoms, such as peanut allergies and allergies to grass pollen. 

 

These medicines have the potential to make a positive impact on people like Gil, who now feels like he has been given a new pair of lungs after working with his physician to find a treatment that worked for him. One of the most rewarding moments came when breathing tests revealed normal lung function—something a severe asthma patient could only dream of just a few years ago. 

 

“The new treatment has given me my life back, and more importantly, it’s given me back to my family,” says Gil. “Without innovation, I wouldn’t have the life I’m living today.”

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