University of Manchester and Owlstone Medical Partner on £250,000 Grant from Asthma UK and Innovate UK for Asthma Diagnostic Development

Published on: 7 Mar 2019, under Breath Biopsy

Manchester, UK and Cambridge, UK, March 7 2019: The University of Manchester, and Owlstone Medical, a global diagnostics company developing a breathalyzer for applications in early disease detection and precision medicine, today announce the award of an Asthma UK/Innovate UK grant for the improvement of asthma diagnosis.

Under a joint Asthma UK and Innovate UK funding initiative, which seeks to broker research collaborations between academia and UK industry to develop new tools that can accurately diagnose asthma and its subtypes, the University of Manchester will receive £249,950 to fund a three-year study. Within the study, Owlstone Medical will be deploying its novel Breath Biopsy® platform to collect breath samples from asthmatic patients and healthy controls, which will then be analyzed to identify breath-based biomarkers for the definitive diagnosis of asthma and to guide effective front-end treatment decisions. This research will be embedded within RADicA (Rapid Access Diagnostics for Asthma study), an NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) funded study of asthma diagnosis.

Although asthma is an extremely common condition, diagnosis can be challenging as there is presently no reliable and definitive diagnostic test available. Current guidelines recommend asthma is diagnosed based on clinical judgement, combining the presence of symptoms suggestive of asthma with results in the most commonly used pulmonary tests (spirometry, peak flow variability, bronchodilator reversibility) and the fraction of exhaled nitric oxide (FENO), which focus primarily on the large airways. While these tests have been used for many years, evidence shows that they are poor at diagnosing asthma because asthma affects both large and small airways, and it is now recognized that the small airways are just as important to establish a clear diagnosis.

Breath is emerging as a highly promising way to directly measure metabolites reflecting underlying disease activity. This non-invasive approach can provide important information relating to both small and large airway function that can offer a “window” into the lung health of an individual, including identification and monitoring of disease. The University of Manchester is at the forefront of applying the chemistry of exhaled breath, and have partnered for this study with Owlstone Medical, who has developed Breath Biopsy, a reliable and non-invasive method for the collection and analysis of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) on exhaled breath.

The project has several aims, including using breath-based biomarkers and measures of small airway function to: enable the rapid, accurate and low-cost diagnosis and monitoring of asthma; to better classify different forms of asthma, their progression, and effect on airway inflammation; and to predict early if someone is likely to respond to ICS treatment. Additionally, by using the data collected in the NIHR Manchester BRC funded RADicA study, the project will compare the performance and clinical utility of these approaches to the existing large airway tests.

Dr Clare Murray, Clinical Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester and NIHR Manchester BRC Asthma Programme Associate Lead said: “The treatment of asthma remains very challenging, not least because it is better considered a syndrome with many underlying causes, each of which may differ by optimal treatment. The emergence of new devices that enable biomarkers to be detected on breath however, has the potential to revolutionize asthma diagnosis, and we are very pleased to be working with Owlstone Medical on this important project.”

Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO at Owlstone Medical, commented: “Our partnership with the University of Manchester builds on prior work Owlstone Medical has done as part of the STRATA trial. Also funded and supported by Asthma UK and Innovate UK, STRATA was designed to conduct research into the use of VOCs in patients’ exhaled breath as a way to select the best individualized treatment. We remain committed to deploying Breath Biopsy to help the 5.4 million people with asthma in the UK and estimated 339 million worldwide who could benefit from personalized healthcare.”

Dr Erika Kennington, Head of Research at Asthma UK, said: “We are delighted to partner with Innovate UK to joint-fund this project. Diagnosing asthma can be extremely difficult and this is mainly because there is a lack of definitive diagnostic tools. This research provides an exciting opportunity to improve the accuracy of asthma diagnosis, meaning people with asthma can then get faster access to treatments and care.”

Dr Kath Mackay, Interim Director – Ageing Society, Health & Nutrition at Innovate UK said: “Many of us either are or know asthma sufferers, so are only too aware of the pressing need for better diagnosis and improved, personalized treatments. This new funding will allow innovative businesses to work hand-in-hand with the very best researchers to bring forward these much-needed breakthroughs. By choosing to work in partnership with leading charities, such as Asthma UK we can connect businesses to the resources that the charities may have. This can be access to patients, new ideas and the ability to generate real world evidence.”


Notes to Editors:
Dr Clare Murray is also a Consultant Respiratory Paediatrician at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.

See also:

For more information please contact:
For Owlstone Medical:
Sarah Jeffery, Zyme Communications
+44 (0)7771 730919

For Manchester University:
Mike Addelman, Media Relations Officer, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, University of Manchester
+44 (0)161 275 2111
+44 (0)7717 881567

For Asthma UK:
Hannah Jowett, Media Officer
+44 (0)20 7786 4951

For Innovate UK:
PJ Taylor, Innovate UK communications
+44 (0)7950 25001

About The University of Manchester (

The University of Manchester, a member of the prestigious Russell Group, is the UK’s largest single-site university with more than 40,000 students – including more than 10,000 from overseas. It is consistently ranked among the world’s elite for graduate employability. The University is also one of the country’s major research institutions, rated fifth in the UK in terms of ‘research power’ (REF 2014). World-class research is carried out across a diverse range of fields including cancer, advanced materials, addressing global inequalities, energy and industrial biotechnology. No fewer than 25 Nobel laureates have either worked or studied here. It is the only UK university to have social responsibility among its core strategic objectives, with staff and students alike dedicated to making a positive difference in communities around the world. Manchester is ranked 38th in the world in the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2017 and 6th in the UK. Visit for further information.

About Asthma UK (

  • In the UK, 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).
  • Every day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack, and tragically two thirds of these deaths are preventable.
  • Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and cure asthma. We do this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people to reduce their risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

About The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) (

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation’s largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding.

About The NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) (
The Manchester BRC is hosted by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and The University of Manchester, in partnership with The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust. The NIHR has invested £28.5m in Greater Manchester over five years from 1st April 2017 under the NIHR BRC Award Scheme.

About Innovate UK (
Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. For more information visit
Innovate UK drives productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas, including those from the UK’s world-class research base. We connect businesses to the partners, customers and investors that can help them turn ideas into commercially successful products and services and business growth.
We fund business and research collaborations to accelerate innovation and drive business investment into R&D. Our support is available to businesses across all economic sectors, value chains and UK regions.

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