A new pill targeting asthma symptoms could be life-changing for people who dislike taking inhaled corticosteroids over the long term, avoid or struggle to use them.
Inhaled steroids have been the asthma treatment of choice to control underlying inflammation and open constricted airways for almost 20 years, but a small study by researchers at Britain’s University of Leicester may lead to a simpler alternative in pill form.
Most people with asthma use a controller inhaler with a low dose of steroids to manage symptoms and a reliever inhaler to stop acute attacks.
“This new drug could be a game changer for future treatment of asthma,” said Christopher Brightling, a professor of respiratory medicine at Glenfield Hospital in the city of Leicester who led the study, which was published in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine in August.
In a 12-week trial involving 61 people, the new pill Fevipiprant showed good success in improving lung function, reducing inflammation and repairing the lining of damaged airways, Brightling said.
Researchers examined the effects on inflammation in the airway by measuring the sputum eosinophil count, the white blood cell that increases in allergic asthma and can be used to assess the severity of the condition. The rate in people with moderate-to-severe asthma involved in the trial taking Fevipiprant was reduced almost fivefold from an average of 5.4 percent to 1.1 percent.
The scientists measured symptoms, lung function through breathing tests, took samples of the airway wall and conducted chest CT scans. “Most treatments might improve some of these features of disease, but with Fevipiprant improvements were seen with all of the types of tests,” he said.
One group of participants with moderate-to-severe asthma involved in the trial was given 225 milligrams of the drug twice a day and the rest received a placebo. “I knew straight away that I had been given the drug,” said Gaye Stokes, 54. “I felt like a completely different person. I had more get up and go, I was less wheezy, and for the first time in years I felt really, really well.”
The drug is currently being evaluated in late stage clinical trials funded by Novartis pharmaceutical company, the U.K. government and the European Union for its efficiency in helping patients with severe asthma, and the process has been accelerated due to the positive results of the smaller study, Brightling said.
In patients with a reduction in inflammation to the same degree that we saw in the study, we would typically see about a halving of the number of people who have asthma attacks,” he said. “This study would suggest that that may well be the case, which would be really exciting.”