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Lung disease patients needed for heart drug trial

University of East Anglia (UEA) researchers are looking for people with lung disease for a new study into whether taking beta-blockers could help reduce ‘flare ups’.

They hope to find out whether using beta-blockers, which are more commonly used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, could be a beneficial treatment for people with 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.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term lung disease due to smoking that slowly gets worse and affects 1.2 million people in the UK. It is the fifth leading cause of death in the UK, resulting in 30,000 fatalities a year.

The condition causes narrowing of the airways, which in turn causes breathing problems, and often a persistent cough and chest infections.

Sudden ‘flare-ups’ are a feature of the disease which leave sufferers more breathless, wheezy and more likely to cough. These flare-ups shorten life expectancy and impact people’s ability to get on with daily life. Around 60 per cent of the £1billion spent on the condition is used to treat such flare-ups.

There is evidence that beta-blockers can reduce flare-ups in people with COPD, even if they do not also have a heart condition.

Older beta-blockers had lung side effects but newer so-called selective beta-blockers targeting the heart are safe for those with COPD to use.

The trial is funded by the UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and coordinated by the University of Aberdeen, with multiple centres across the UK including at UEA. It will recruit more than 1,500 patients.

Half of the patients will take be given a beta-blocker (bisoprolol) with the other half given a placebo in order to see if the beta-blocker reduces the number of flare-ups.

Prof 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.

“We are excited to be involved with this important trial. Beta blocking drugs used to be banned in people with COPD so it will be interesting to find out whether newer ones reduce flare-up.

“There were a large number of people from Norfolk who took part in a previous similar study called TWICS, which investigated whether low doses of a drug called theophylline, in conjunction with inhaled steroids, could help. We hope that people with COPD in Norfolk will contribute to this study too.”

Prof Brian Lipworth of the Scottish Centre of Respiratory Disease, University of Dundee, said: “We have already shown that bisoprolol is safe to use in COPD in this trial we will assess if bisoprolol might decrease exacerbations of COPD with the ultimate aim to see if it might improve survival.”

Prof Graham Devereux, from the University of Aberdeen, added: “The evidence that beta-blockers might help people with COPD is very exciting and a potential game changer in our approach to this disease.”

The UEA team will also be carrying out an additional study to study to measure the effects of bisoprolol on heart function tests.

Anyone interested in taking part in the trial should call 01603289876 or email respiratoryresearch@nnuh.nhs.uk.

Study medicine at UEA

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