An injection could offer new hope for people with sever asthma.
The drug, Mepolizumab, helps sufferers with an extreme form of the affliction control their condition and avoid using steroids, according to separate studies in the UK and Canada.
Professor Ian Pavord, from Asthma UK and the senior author of the British-based study, said the results were “incredibly exciting”.
He added: “Studies have shown that as well as reducing severe asthma attacks by up to 50%, this groundbreaking new antibody therapy could also enable people with severe asthma to stop their use of oral steroids, which are reported by many as having significant side effects.
“However, the key to really maximising the potential of this new therapy is identifying exactly which people with severe asthma will benefit from the treatment, something that can only be determined by measuring airway inflammation.”
In total, more than five million people in the UK, including 1.1 million children, are currently receiving treatment for asthma. An asthma sufferer lives in one in five households in Britain, says to Asthma UK.
The research published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) investigated asthmatics with a persistent type of airway inflammation with inflammatory cells called eosinophils.
Dr Paul O’Byrne, who led research at McMaster University, Canada, said: “Mepolizumab works by blocking the production of eosinophils. By preventing their production, we were able to improve asthma, reduce the need for prednisone and really show that eosinophils are important in causing asthma symptoms in these patients.”
For the Canadian study, McMaster researchers recruited 20 patients, between 56 and 58 years old, who had been taking about 10 milligrams of the drug prednisone for approximately nine years, along with other available asthma medication. During the six month trial, nine patients received Mepolizumab and 11 were given a placebo.
Patients receiving Mepolizumab “markedly reduced” their use of prednisone without their asthma getting any worse, Dr O’Byrne said. By comparison, patients in the placebo group had their asthma flare up as prednisone was reduced.
The researchers said the antibody was only helpful for those with eosinophilic asthma.