UK diagnostics group Owlstone Medical has formed a pact with Imperial College London allowing use of its breath analysis technology in a study assessing the underlying causes of exacerbations in severe asthma patients.

Around 300 million people around the world suffer from asthma, with 250,000 annual deaths attributed to the disease. Researchers believe that being able to predict and characterise patients likely to have an exacerbation despite therapy could improve patient management and outcomes.

Owlstone's technology can accurately and selectively detect volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in breath which, it says, have been shown to correlate to inflammatory subtypes in asthma, and can also discriminate between viral and bacterial infection, which is crucial to treatment optimisation.

"The causes of the exacerbations that occur in those suffering from severe asthma remain a mystery; elucidating these will represent a major advance that could lead to preventive measures and better targeted treatments," said Fan Chung, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Imperial College Faculty of Medicine, commenting on the study.

"VOCs analysis of exacerbations will enable a more rapid translation towards point of care analysis and correct treatment of patients," added Ian Adcock, Professor of Respiratory Cell & Molecular Biology at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College.

"Owlstone Medical was created specifically to advance our disease breathalyzer and we will be providing both clinical and academic researchers and pharma companies with access to our technology as part of our services offering, to enable the development of more effective treatments and ultimately better patient outcomes," noted Billy Boyle, the firm's co-founder and chief executive.