A novel, lab-made molecule was able to stick to certain inflammatory proteins and decrease and minimize acute breathing issues among people with moderate-to-severe asthma, according to new research by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and were also presented in Philadelphia at the annual meeting of the American Thoracic Society.
Nearly 24.6 million Americans suffer from asthma, and 10 to 20% of them do not have good control of their symptoms even when taking medications. To date, treatment of persistent, moderate-to-severe asthma has been difficult.
Senior author Sally Wenzel, M.D., professor, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine (PACCM), Pitt School of Medicine, and director, University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute at UPMC/University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said:
""We suspect that there are different underlying causes that lead to the clinical syndrome of asthma, so different treatment approaches are likely needed depending on what type of asthma a patient has. A one-size-fits-all strategy might not, in fact, work for everyone.""
The drug, called Dupilumab, decreased asthma attacks by 87% over a 12 week period compared with those receiving a placebo. The drug functions by blocking proteins that lead to respiratory tissue inflammation - it has shown be effective in treating severe eczema.
Researchers recruited patients with with high levels of eosinophils, a biomarker that shows immune system cells called type 2 helper T cells (Th2 cells) linked to allergy and asthma have been activated. These types of patients were thought to benefit from treatment.
They analyzed patients who were taking moderate to high doses of inhaled steroids and airway-opening drugs - known as long-acting beta agonists. For 12 weeks, 52 volunteers received weekly injections of a placebo while the other 52 received injections of Dupilumab.
Dupilumab is a monoclonal antibody that blocks the activity of signalling molecules involved in inflammation.
After four weeks, both groups stopped using their long-acting beta agonist. Between the sixth and ninth week they stopped taking the inhaled steroid.
Three participants in the Dupilumab group (5.8%) had asthma attacks compared to 23 (44.2%) in the placebo group, a drop of 87%.
The experimental agent was linked to lower levels of biomarkers of inflammation. Slight irritation was found at the injection site and of the throat and nose. Additionally, headache and nausea were reported more frequently in the Dupilumab group.
Mark Gladwin, M.D., chief of PACCM added:
""A major focus of our Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh is personalized or precision medicine, which aims to match a specific treatment to a specific disease, the right approach for the right person. This study highlights the potential of targeting specific molecular pathways in the right patient with asthma.""
A separate study released yesterday suggested that vitamin D may help treat asthma. Findings showed that vitamin D reduced asthma symptoms considerably.