US biopharmaceutical companies current have 54 medicines in development for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is the third leading cause of death in the US, say new industry figures.

Over 13 million Americans suffer from COPD and more than 120,000 die from the disease every year, reports the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). COPD costs the nation around $49.9 billion every year, including $29.5 billion in direct healthcare expenditures, $8 billion in indirect morbidity costs and $12.4 billion in indirect mortality costs, it adds.

The 54 treatments currently being developed by PhRMA member companies include: - an adult stem cell therapy that targets a protein in the blood that is often elevated in COPD; - a monoclonal antibody that acts on interleukin-1 (IL-1) receptors involved in inflammatory conditions; and - a medicine that targets the underlying inflammation in COPD. They are all either in clinical trials or awaiting review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

COPD is an umbrella term for progressive lung diseases, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which are characterised by obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing. In 2008, 13.1 million US adults were estimated to have COPD, although close to 24 million have evidence of impaired lung function, indicating an under-diagnosis of the condition, according to data from the American Lung Association.

Smoking is the primary risk factor for COPD and causes about 85%-90% of deaths from the condition. Female smokers are nearly 13 times as likely to die from COPD as women who have never smoked, while male smokers are almost 12 times as likely to die from the condition as those who have never smoked, says the Association.

137,693 Americans died of COPD in 2008, which was the ninth consecutive year in which women exceeded men in the number of deaths attributable to COPD. During the year, more than 71,000 women died of the condition, compared to almost 66,000 men, it adds.

- Another recent report has forecast that sales of drugs to treat COPD in major markets are set to soar, increasing from a value of around $8.3 billion in 2010 to more than $13.4 billion by 2020. The study, from Decision Resources, says that this fast growth in the US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and Japan will be driven by expanding ageing population, an increase in drug treatment and the uptake of premium-priced combination products.