Lung disease is the defining health care issue of our time. In Ontario, across Canada, and around the world, the numbers of people living with — and dying from — respiratory illnesses are rising sharply, even as mortality rates of other major chronic diseases stabilize and fall. 

One in five Canadians — a number equal to the combined populations of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia — suffer from lung disease. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the number one cause of hospitalization in Canada. Lung cancer kills more people than breast, ovarian, colon, and prostate cancers combined. One in five children in Ontario schools have asthma.

Most people will find this information disturbing, and they should. They might be even more alarmed to learn that although lung disease has the same burden as cancers and cardiovascular disease, respiratory research is critically underfunded. Of the more than $4.5 billion in federal funds invested in medical research over the past 15 years, less than five percent has gone into lung research. 

The need for action

Clearly, we’ve been holding our breath long enough. Without a concerted Canada-wide effort to find better treatments and eventually, cures for lung disease, the heavy human and economic toll exacted by respiratory illness threatens to overwhelm our health-care system.

"Canada’s researchers are amongst the best in the world and are poised to make new discoveries that will directly benefit Canadians."

That is why organizations and individuals across Canada involved in respiratory research and in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of lung disease, are taking action. We are determined to transform a landscape that is characterized by the lack of resources to support a comprehensive research agenda. Canada’s researchers are amongst the best in the world and are poised to make new discoveries that will directly benefit Canadians. With support, we will improve coordination among researchers, as well as between researchers and institutions, and reverse a worrying decline in the number of graduates choosing careers in lung research. 

That need for united Canada-wide action provided the impetus for the creation of the new National Respiratory Research Strategy (NRRS). This bold initiative will make a real difference in the lives of people with respiratory disease by committing to increase research funding; encouraging the best scientists, clinical researchers, and biomedical research leaders to focus on lung health research; and expand the high level of excellence already being supported across Canada.

As the NRRS moves from plan to reality, our first priority is a new training and mentorship program designed to ensure that we attract the best and brightest medical researchers into the respiratory field. We will do this by offering research awards and partnering the next generation of scientists with the most experienced and inspiring advisors.

At the same time, we are setting up a new national network of researchers and platforms, the Canadian Respiratory Research Network, to promote more effective cross-country collaboration through a solid and well-funded national research infrastructure. 

A collaborative effort 

To support these vital initiatives, a new campaign, Breathing as One, is being launched that will rally Canadians under the banner of better breathing.  The aim is to change the way we think about breathing — what we do to enable it, the therapies we need to treat it, and what we can do to safeguard it.

These are exciting times for members of Canada’s respiratory research community, all of whom believe passionately in the potential for focused, well-funded research to turn the tide of lung disease in this country and, in the process, help millions of Canadians to breathe more easily and freely.