We hope that you and your families are all well, and thank you all for your continued support of Breathing Matters during these strange times.
As we ‘welcomed in’ 2021, we were anticipating, and looking forward to, a return to normal. With not just one, but three vaccines, we were confident that we could soon start to focus back on our pulmonary fibrosis and lung infection research work with renewed vigour. To some extent, this has been true, although COVID-19 has continued to dominate our work. Let’s hope for even more normality in 2022.
Thank goodness that immunisation has made shielding (almost) a thing of the past (for most), although we would still want all our patients to stay safe over the Christmas and New Year period as the even more transmissible Omicron variant rears its head. Please do make sure that you are up to date with your boosters; ask friends and family to take lateral flow tests before meeting up; do feel that you can ask guest to continue to distance and wear masks even though it is Christmas – the virus doesn’t take a holiday. Christmas is a time for giving, but no one wants to give their friends and family COVID-19!
On the subject of giving, Christmas is also a spend time with family and friends, and perhaps you might be inspired to donate to your favourite charity to spread more joy. If Breathing Matters ticks your box, then do please DONATE HERE.
In January 2021, we celebrated our tenth year as a charity. As a result of 10 strong years of funding research into pulmonary fibrosis and lung infection, we have achieved many things, including developing better ways of diagnosing and predicting outcomes in patients with pulmonary fibrosis, building on years of pre-clinical research to start an early phase clinical trial of a novel medication C21 in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), developed novel vaccine candidates for pneumonia, and demonstrated that bronchiectasis is both a much commoner and more serious problem than previously suspected.
Read our impact report on interstitial lung diseases (ILD) to see what wonderful things we have done with your donations:
Our Breathing Matters’ philosophy is to ensure that our income goes towards vital research, and last year, 98.9% of your donations financed research in support of treatments and cures. As we enter our second decade, we have been fortunate in receiving a legacy specifically aimed at reinvigorating our efforts to raise awareness and drive donations. We are delighted to launch our refreshed website with our updated logo which reflect our ability to respond to an ever-changing landscape and to emphasise our ground-breaking research.
Some things including our values are unchanged: Trusted, Pioneering, Agile, Collaborative and Determined. We remain passionate in our research to create better treatments and ultimately a cure; we will never give up!
Our first work of 2021 was to publish our findings on mortality of ILD patients with COVID-19. A superbly collaborative piece of research from ILD centres across Europe led by Professor Gisli Jenkins. The data showed that patients with IPF were more likely to do badly if they developed COVID-19 and the terrible process of shielding was justified despite the enormous mental and physical toll on our patients and their families.
One strange side-effect of the pandemic is that we are learning so much about ILD from our experience with COVID-19 and vice versa. Our main emphasis is to see what happens to patients with pre-existing ILD or whether COVID-19 accelerates the development of ILD in the months after infection.
Our work in ILD continues to focus on the neutrophil blood cell – the important infantry-soldier in the immune response – the first to arrive at the scene of infection. The neutrophil creates, and throws out, a molecular NET (like a web) to stop invading microbes. However, moderation is always a good thing (even/especially at Christmas!), and too many neutrophil NETs can cause ‘bystander injury’ and damage the lungs causing ILD and lung fibrosis. One fascinating finding is that a simple blood test (that tells us the number of neutrophils in the blood) taken at the time of diagnosis can predict which patient with IPF is going to deteriorate quickly and who is going to be stable. We hope to have this published in the next few months and will tell you more at that time.
If we are correct, and too many NETs are harmful for the lungs, how can we safely get rid of them? One simple treatment is a nebulised treatment, dornase alfa, that is used daily at home by children with cystic fibrosis. Fascinatingly, NETs are also responsible for the lung damage in COVID-19 and we were awarded funding (£800,000 from LifeArc) in 2020 to carry out a clinical trial of dornase alfa in patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia, the COVASE Study. We were delighted to show that the nebulised treatment did reduce inflammation and there was a trend towards decreased oxygen requirements and reduced hospital stay from 11 to 5 days. We calculated that, if every patient during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic had been given dornase alfa, we would have freed up half a hospital ward every day. We were delighted that Dr Veni Papayannopoulos, from The Francis Crick Institute and Professor Jo Porter were awarded the Sir David Cooksey Award for Translational Science – a very prestigious award that recognises key achievements in developing novel therapies – for the COVASE study. We accepted the award on behalf of the hundreds of patients and investigators that took part in the study. Our next step is to use this newfound knowledge to improve outcomes in acute exacerbations of IPF. A similar study in IPF patients will be an enormous undertaking but, with your help, I am sure we can do it.
Prof Porter has been working with C21 for over 10 years. C21 is a treatment that rebalances the angiotensin-renin system and is safe and very well tolerated. C21 has also been tested, and found promising, in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia. In 2022, we are carrying out a phase 3 study of C21 in COVID-19 and a phase 2 study in IPF, both are recruiting right now!
We continue to support the national Urgent Public Health study, PHOSP-COVID. This study will discover what the long-term effects on health might be after being hospitalised with COVID-19 infection. In March 2021, we showed that many patients hospitalised with COVID-19 have not fully recovered after five months, and often have multiple symptoms. More recent data has followed this group to 12 months after admission and has been submitted for publication and we hope will be available early in 2022.
We have also just published important data describing what level of antibody in the blood after vaccination will protect against COVID-19 infection. These data that will be essential when planning the future vaccination policy, a process that Professor Brown is directly involved in as a member of the COVID-19 subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. Due to that role, he has had many radio and TV interviews to help explain the vaccine policy that some of you may have heard or seen.
Along with work on COVID-19, research on bronchiectasis and pneumonia continues. We have published data on how a form of treatment used for blood cancers and rheumatoid arthritis called B cell depletion therapy may affect immunity to pneumonia. This information will help identify who is at most risk of catching pneumonia and therefore will need preventative strategies such as vaccination.
You may be too late to buy a Christmas gift from our new online shop, but do have a look at our new merchandise – maybe you can buy a hoodie or sweater to keep you warm and at the same time spread awareness by wearing our new logo with pride.
Wanting something a bit more substantial? We are hoping our Breathing Matters stalls will be back up and running in 2022 (but I am afraid that we can’t guarantee this).
Thank you to our Supporters
Through all of this, what has kept Breathing Matters going is your vital, continuous, and unwavering support. Your donations are our lifeline, whether one-off or regular, they all help. Many health charities have seen dramatic reductions in income over 2021 with little respite likely in 2022. We hope that by keeping our overheads as low as possible and bringing in funding from other sources, and with your help, we can weather this storm.
A special thank you to those who have remembered us in their wills – and so planted the seed of a tree under whose shade they will never sit.
The New Year is also that time when we make resolutions and aim to improve ourselves and the lives of those around us. What are your plans for 2022 – would you like to get involved in a fundraising event for us? We invite you to step out of your comfort zone and fundraise for us. We have plenty of amazing ideas for you, including the Northern Lights Trek in Iceland, Yosemite to San Fran cycle or a trek around the Great Wall of China. We also have local events and also virtual events that you can do at your own pace. For inspiration, take a look at our fundraising page.
Before we sign off, Breathing Matters would like us to take some time to remember all those who have died of pulmonary fibrosis, COVID-19, bronchiectasis or other respiratory infections/conditions and we offer our sincere condolences to those whom they have left behind who will be spending their first Christmas without their loved one.
With Christmas on our doorsteps, it is time to curl up with a mince pie and get in the festive spirit. What better way than to listen to our online virtual Christmas Concert given by the excellent Holst Singers.
We would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and here’s to a healthier New Year!