Credit: NIAID via Creative Commons

Major breakthrough by University of Glasgow scientists means sufferers of asthma and COPD may soon be able to breathe easy

By Luke Chafer

The creation of the drug could help 500 million people.

Scientists at the University of Glasgow, aided by international partners, have recently published major research in the Science Translational Medicine Journal that identifies a new class of drug that can reverse asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). 

The research found that if a drug activates the protein-free fatty acid receptor 4 (FFA4), previously not known to be present in the lungs, then the airways widen due to the muscle relaxing counteracting the inflammatory nature of the two diseases. 

The research also found that the protein was also able to reduce inflammation caused by pollution and smoking. It is hoped that this groundbreaking finding can pave the way for drugs, distinctly different from those that are currently being prescribed, that could effectively treat these conditions. 

The impact of a drug based on these findings would be immense as the two conditions combined affect 500 million people worldwide. Currently, treatment for asthmatics fails to control symptoms for 45% of individuals. 

COPD, which causes permanent restriction and damage to the airways, is one of the singular greatest causes of mortality in Great Britain, with around 30,000 people dying annually with the condition as an underlying cause. A recent estimate by the British Lung Foundation suggests that 1.3 million people are currently living with COPD diagnosed, and around 4.5% of all people aged over 40 have the condition in Britain. 

In the official University press release Andrew Tobin, professor of Molecular Pharmacology at the University of Glasgow, was optimistic that the findings would lead to an effective treatment, saying: “It was indeed a surprise to find that by targeting a protein that up to now has been thought of as being activated by fish oils in our diet we were able to relax airway muscle and prevent inflammation. We are optimistic that we can extend our findings and develop a new drug treatment of asthma and COPD.” 

Professor Christopher Brightling, an author on the paper from the University of Leicester and consultant in respiratory medicine at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, added: “By the identification of this new mechanism we offer the hope for new effective medicines for those patients that are not responsive to our current treatments.”

Professor Graeme Milligan, Gardiner Chair of Biochemistry at the University of Glasgow, also stressed the other possible implications of the findings: “We were delighted to see the effectiveness of this class of drugs in relieving the symptoms caused not only by agents that result in asthma but also by pollutants and cigarette smoke.” 

This is another significant finding, as the Office for National Statistics reports between 28,000 – 36,000 deaths per annum attributed to pollution in the UK. 


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Keith Luck

I would be very interested to know when the FFA4 inhaler will be available to use.

Kind regards


This sounds simply amazing, what a breakthrough this would be. I notice the article is dated September 2020, what progress or developments have ensued since?

Michelle Albert

I saw the fear in my husband and children’s eyes when I told them about my condition then they start to find solution on their own to help my condition.I am an 59 now who was diagnose COPD emphysema which I know was from my years of smoking. I started smoking in school when smoking was socially acceptable. I remember when smoking was permitted in hospitals. It was not known then how dangerous cigarettes were for us, and it seemed everybody smoked but i was able to get rid of my Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ( COPD ) condition through the help of www. multivitamincare .org my husband bought, total cure herbal foundation has the right herbal formula to help you get rid and repair any lung conditions and cure you totally with their natural organic herbs. I wish anybody who starts smoking at a young age would realize what will eventually happen to their bodies if they continue that vile habit throughout their life.