Asthma Insights with Matthew Catley, UCB

Matthew Catley

Matthew Catley, Head of Respiratory Pharmacology, UCB, provides some insights into asthma and COPD.

Please give some background about your company. What is your role, and what does it entail?

UCB is a global biopharma focused on severe diseases with operations in more than 40 countries and global revenue of € 3.1 billion in 2009. I am in the pharmacology department where I work across a range of disease indications. My specialty is respiratory diseases and I run a number of models of asthma. UCB is interested in developing therapies for severe diseases such as asthma and COPD and part of my job is to build relationships with key opinion leaders and researchers working in these areas.

What are the symptoms of asthma? How many people have asthma, and why is it especially common in children?

The symptoms of asthma are shortness of breath, wheezing and a tight feeling of the chest. These symptoms are often worse at night and can be exacerbated by viral infections. Asthma is believed to affect 300 million people world wide and results in an estimated 250,000 deaths per year. Prevalence ranges between 1 and 18 percent and varies from country to country. It is clear that prevalence is highest in the developed countries of the world such as Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the United States. Childhood wheeze is associated with parental smoking, premature birth, respiratory viral infections and atopy. Some of these children will develop the persistent symptoms of asthma whereas some may out grow these symptoms.

Why has the number of people with asthma grown recently?

The reasons for increased asthma prevalence are not entirely clear. However, there are at least two theories that asthma is associated with modern hygienic living. The hygiene hypothesis suggests that modern hygienic living means that the immune system is not exposed to sufficient challenges and so is prone to inappropriate activation in response to harmless allergens. Alternatively, it has been suggested that modern detergents cause disruption of the normal barrier function of the skin, and this allows exposure to allergens.

What causes asthma exacerbations in children? What are some of the therapeutic approaches to control this?

The most common cause of exacerbations in children is respiratory viral infection or exposure to allergen. Exacerbations are usually treated with bronchodilators such as β2 agonists and corticosteroids.

What are the new medical developments around asthma and COPD?

Medical developments center on improving the duration of action of bronchodilators and combinations of these with steroids. There are a large number of drugs currently in Phase II developments and the out come of these trials will hopefully drive the development of novel therapies in the area of asthma and COPD.

How do you track lung function? What are some of the improvements in this area?

This is not really my area of expertise but lung function is usually tracked using spirometry. There are currently a number of companies developing centralized spirometry for clinical trials and this can improve the quality of data.

What are the current big issues the FDA is focusing on?

One of the key issues seems to be the safety of long acting β2 agonists.

Interview by Jessica Livingston.