A scientist specialising in drug development for asthma and lung disease is to continue his work into how these debilitating conditions can best be treated at the University of Lincoln, UK.

Dr Neil Holden joins Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences from pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca in Sweden, where he was Associate Principal Scientist.

While there he worked on early drug development projects and was also involved in setting up and maintaining collaborations with various academic groups all over the world.

Dr Holden was previously part of the Airway Disease Research Group at Novartis, researching inflammatory lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.

COPD is the name for a collection of lung diseases including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. People with COPD have difficulties breathing, primarily due to the narrowing and destruction of their airways – known as airflow obstruction.

Although his work in this area began while at Novartis, Dr Holden subsequently discovered that various members of his family suffered with COPD, further piquing his interest in the debilitating disease.

He received a post-doctoral Killam Fellowship while working in the Airway Inflammation Research Group at the University of Calgary in Canada.

Dr Holden said: “When people have these kinds of diseases the cornerstone therapy is corticosteroids, which are involved in regulation of inflammation. There are also ‘reliever’ medications that are taken immediately to relieve asthma symptoms. They quickly relax the muscles surrounding the narrowed airways. This allows the airways to open wider, making it easier to breathe again.

“I worked on how these drugs interact with each other. It was seen that patients taking those medications together had a lot better results; they amplified one another when used together.”

Dr Holden plans to develop his work in airways disease, specifically how the inflammation caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) interacts with the anti-inflammatory properties of the corticosteroids.

He explained: “The major burden for people with asthma or COPD is when the disease suddenly gets worse, such as with a severe asthma attack or decline in lung function. The majority of these exacerbations are due to inflammation by viruses such as RSV, which is a very common virus that leads to mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older, healthy children. It can be more serious in young babies, especially those in certain high-risk groups.

“Most children have been infected by the age of two and have immunity. But as people get older their immunity to this virus starts to wane. Patients who have COPD, which is heavily linked to smoking, are generally 50 years old plus and are particularly susceptible to the virus. If we can find out how this inflammation reacts to certain medications, we can hopefully create more effective treatment options.”

Dr Holden, who will be based in the new Joseph Banks Laboratories, will also teach virology and immunology on a variety of courses.

To listen to an interview with Dr Holden click below.