DOCTORS in Southampton have discovered a new breakthrough in lung disease treatment.

A study led by city clinicians has found a drug that can ‘block’ disease-triggering molecules in the lung that can significantly slow down progression of terminal lung disease.

The drug, Nintedanib, halves the annual decline in breathing capacity in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a condition which causes inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue and leaves sufferers with an average life expectancy of between just three and five years.

IPF affects around 15,000 people over 60 in the UK, mainly men and former smokers, and is already responsible for 5,000 deaths and 5,000 new cases every year.

The studies, led by Professor Luca Richeldi, a consultant in respiratory medicine at Southampton General Hospital, involved 1,066 patients from 205 centres in 24 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia.

He said: “The prognosis for patients with IPF is worse than many cancers and cases are increasing by 5,000 a year in the UK alone, so the need for new, targeted and more effective treatments has never been greater.

“Nintedanib specifically targets some key molecular pathways known to be involved in IPF, which gives us a much clearer insight into how the body works and how we might be able to further develop treatments."

He added: “The impact of this study cannot be overstated. These are exciting results and mean Nintedanib has the potential to offer patients a new direction in treating this aggressive disease.”

Prof Richeldi, who is based at the National Institute for Health Research Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit, said it was now “highly likely” the drug would be licensed worldwide within the next year, but may be available to some patients in the near future.

He presented the findings at a medical conference in San Diego on Sunday night.

The study was funded by Boehringer Ingelheim.