Transforming the future of care for COPD patients

Written by:

Maria Belvisi

SVP and Head of Research and Early Development, Respiratory & Immunology, BioPharmaceuticals R&D

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects an estimated 384 million people around the world.1 Despite its prevalence, the disease remains underserved and there are still no treatments available for patients that can halt disease progression or change its trajectory.2

At AstraZeneca, we’re unwavering in our commitment to COPD patients. It’s imperative that we continue to follow the science to transform the standard of care for COPD, today and tomorrow. Here are three ways we are working to tackle this public health burden.   

Enhancing inhaled combination medicines: Inhaled medications are the backbone of care for COPD today. We’ve been developing the next generation of inhaled medicines, addressing unmet needs in exacerbation control and following the science behind all-cause mortality to better understand how we can aim to prevent early death from this devastating progressive disease.

Defining COPD-specific targets: Historically, the search for new treatments for COPD has seen many failures, perhaps in part because many candidates have been repositioned treatments used in asthma. COPD is a complicated disease with heterogenous causes, and research for treatments based on its specific pathophysiology has been lacking.2 At AstraZeneca, our approach is to break down the features of COPD into the three discrete areas that define its phenotype – small airways disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis – to find the underlying mechanisms behind the disease and ultimately discover new targets for modification.

Leveraging ground-breaking technology: Cutting-edge technologies are allowing us to break new ground in COPD research in multiple ways. These include machine learning, which helps to identify patient clusters with similar co-morbidity profiles which in turn will enable the identification of novel targets and precision approaches. It also includes imaging techniques that enable earlier, accurate detection of changes to the small airways, allowing for greater sensitivity in observing the impact of drug intervention in the lungs and building the evidence base for earlier intervention in COPD treatment to delay disease progression.

COPD is known to be a difficult area for research and development, but our understanding of the science is continuing to evolve. Now, with more tools at our disposal, we are determined to find new solutions for patients.

It’s inspiring to work with a team of scientists who are passionate about transforming care in COPD, both within and outside of AstraZeneca. This disease is the third largest cause of mortality globally3; it must be prioritised to achieve needed breakthroughs. I'm proud of our ambition to truly address the global burden of COPD and work towards a future for patients that goes beyond the current clinical outcomes of lung function and exacerbations, to change the course of the disease completely.


1. Adeloye D, Chua S, Lee C, et al. Global Health Epidemiology Reference Group (GHERG). Global and regional estimates of COPD prevalence: Systematic review and meta-analysis. J Glob Health. 2015; 5 (2): 020415.

2. Franssen FM, Alter P, Bar N, et al. Personalized medicine for patients with COPD: where are we?. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2019; 14: 1465‐1484.

3. Quaderi SA, Hurst JR. The unmet global burden of COPD. Glob Health Epidemiol Genom. 2018; 3: e4. Published 2018 Apr 6. doi:10.1017/gheg.2018.1.


Veeva ID: Z4-25042
Date of preparation: June 2020
Date of expiry: June 2022