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Priorities for respiratory research in the UK
  1. Stephen T Holgate,
  2. on behalf of the UK Respiratory Research Strategy Committee
  1. Correspondence to:
    Professor Stephen T Holgate
    Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, Hants SO16 6YD, UK; sth{at}

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Respiratory diseases are placing an increasing burden on the UK health system

In the past, respiratory research has proved itself effective in vanquishing major killers such as tuberculosis, transforming the lives of patients with asthma and developing life-saving non-invasive ventilation for those with chronic respiratory failure. Now, new problems affect our patients with respiratory diseases and present an enormous burden of ill health that we are currently ill equipped to deal with. The second edition of the Burden of lung disease was published by the British Thoracic Society in June 20061; it documents that respiratory diseases now kill one in five people in the UK, with the standardised mortality ratio for respiratory diseases showing a threefold difference across social classes. More people die from respiratory disease than from ischaemic heart disease. Respiratory diseases are the most common cause of long-term illness in children, result in the highest levels of consultations with general practitioners and are the second most common reason for emergency hospital admission. Examples of the severity of the situation from UK statistics are as follows:

  • respiratory disease kills one in five people

  • respiratory disease has the steepest socio-economic mortality gradient of any disease area

  • respiratory disease is the most common reason for general practitioner consultation

  • the only countries in Europe with a worse mortality rate from respiratory disease than the UK are Ireland, Malta, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the Republic of Moldova

  • 5-year survival from lung cancer is <8% (only pancreas is worse, 7000 cases/year)

  • asthma is the most common chronic illness in children and pregnant women

  • there are 10 000 new cases of interstitial lung disease a year.

Although research has undoubtedly contributed to a greater understanding of disease mechanisms, epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment when compared with other specialities, progress has been slow. In …

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