As consistently cold weather descends upon much of the U.S., Americans who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, may feel their symptoms exacerbated by the dry winter air.

This disease, which affects the lungs and respiratory system and includes what used to be known as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is on the rise. According to Allied Market Research, the global market for COPD and asthma devices will reach $34.3 billion by 2020, which would mark 4.5% compound annual growth from 2014.

Currently, an estimated 329 million people suffer from COPD worldwide. In contrast, there are only about 15 million cancer patients. Indeed, there are some big gains for investors to be made here.

Leading the charge among Big Pharma companies working on treatments to alleviate symptoms caused by this condition is GlaxoSmithKline (GSK - Get Report) .

Last month, the company filed an application with the Food and Drug Administration seeking approval for a new three-in-one therapy for COPD patients that it has developed in a partnership with Innoviva.

Many patients who suffer from COPD need to take multiple drugs, using multiple inhalers. But this new therapy, which is designed to be inhaled once a day, combines three common medications: fluticasone furoate, umeclidinium and vilanterol.

This new inhaler-delivered therapy stands to be very convenient for patients who find using three inhalers a day extremely inconvenient. And that equals huge gains for the company and its investors.

GlaxoSmithKline is clearly the best Big Pharma way to play the rise of COPD, but it's not the only one. Rivals such as AstraZeneca (AZN - Get Report) and Novartis (NVS - Get Report) are developing similar combined therapies to make dealing with the condition a lot more manageable.

In addition, Novartis is currently working with Qualcomm (QCOM - Get Report) to develop a "smart inhaler," called the Breezhaler. This device will collect data from COPD patients who use the inhaler to help better manage their disease. For instance, it will keep track of how long it takes a patient to inhale the drug.

"This is an exciting time for health care as we see the proliferation of the Internet of medical Things," said Qualcomm's Life division senior vice president, Rick Valencia. "Through our expanded collaboration with Novartis, we are able to deliver a frictionless digital health experience to their COPD patients."

So remember to keep track of new developments in COPD treatment, because the companies spearheading them could turn out to be savvy investments to add to your portfolio.


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The author is an independent contributor who at the time of publication owned none of the stocks mentioned.