After funding asthma research for 20 years, the American Asthma Foundation has suspended operations

The American Asthma Foundation (AAF) was founded in 1999, with the mission of improving treatment for asthma and, ultimately, to cure or prevent the disease. Its approach was to support basic research into the causes of asthma, in order to define new targets for therapy.

The AAF was supported primarily by one source, the Sandler Foundation, which invested over $100 million in direct support of asthma research. Other generous donors also supported the AAF throughout the years, including the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation and John and Cynthia Gunn. Attempts to raise funds on the scale needed to sustain the program into the future, however, met with limited success. Therefore, in 2019 the American Asthma Foundation suspended its programs.

From its onset, the AAF initiated a new approach to disease-related research by recruiting and supporting top investigators in other fields to focus their expertise on asthma. Risk was encouraged. Investigators were given freedom to pursue their most innovative ideas, and no preliminary results were required.

This approach proved remarkably successful, and we encourage other research programs to try it. As the largest non-governmental funder of asthma research, the AAF brought over 180 outstanding principal investigators to the study of asthma, along with 495 trainees. Almost all of the investigators were new to the field, and the majority of the investigators continued to study asthma beyond the period of their AAF funding. So too did 65 of their trainees who are now independent investigators in the field. As of 2019, AAF investigators have brought six new drugs to clinical trials and many more potential therapies are in the pipeline.

For those interested in learning more about the program, we call attention to a description of the AAF published in Science Translational Medicine in 2015, which is available here. A detailed description of AAF operations is available online here. Interested parties are also invited to email William Seaman, M.D. at the email address below. We would be glad to assist in efforts to apply the AAF approach to research regarding any disease.

William E. Seaman, M.D.
Research Director
American Asthma Foundation
[email protected]