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New drug could revolutionise treatment for half a million asthma sufferers

prescription asthma drugs

A new asthma drug has the potential to improve the lives of around 500,000 people in the UK who have moderate to severe asthma, suggest experts following successful clinical trials.

The findings relate to a small-scale trial, jointly funded by NHS research body the National Institute for Health Research, the European Union and Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical firm and manufacturer of the new drug Fevipiprant.

Experts say the UK has one of the highest rates of asthma prevalence in the world with 5.4million people diagnosed – 1.1million of which are children. In the UK, someone suffers a life-threatening asthma attack every 10 seconds, according to Asthma UK.

The condition claims around 1,400 lives each year, two-thirds of which are said by experts to be avoidable - subject to diagnosis, regular check-up attendance and correct treatment management - but the condition can be complex. The NHS currently spends more than £1billion per year on asthma treatment and management.

Fevipiprant could be a “gamechanger for future treatment”

Publishing their findings in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine, the University of Leicester team, led by clinical professor and research fellow Chris Brightling, say the results during clinical trials revealed use of the drug resulted in reduced asthma symptoms, improved lung function and lessened inflammation, effectively speeding up lung repair.

Professor Brightling says the potential effectiveness observed thus far has the potential to reduce a sufferers’ risk of suffering asthma attacks and of being hospitalised and describes the new drug as “a gamechanger for future treatment”.

He adds: “I’m excited by how effective it’s likely to be and also about its potential to reduce the need for patients to take oral steroids.”

Asthma Inhaler

Conventional asthma treatment has barely changed in two decades, ranging from various inhalers which control symptoms and strengthen the lungs to corticosteroid tablets for those with the more severe forms of the condition which fails to respond to maximum inhaler treatment, however, the latter option carries a high likelihood of weight gain and increases a patient’s risk of developing diabetes, osteoporosis and high blood pressure.

Asthma research shows “massive promise” but over-the-counter drug still “a long way off”

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, says the research shows “massive promise” but should be greeted with “cautious optimism”.

Dr Walker says: “In general, the possibility of one day taking a pill instead of using an inhaler will be a very welcome one among the 5.4 million people in the UK with asthma, particularly as this study focused on people who develop the condition in later life, some of whom we know can struggle with the dexterity required to use an inhaler.

She adds: “More research is needed and we’re a long way off seeing a pill for asthma being made available over the pharmacy counter, but it’s an exciting development and one which, in the long term, could offer a real alternative to current treatments.”

“Compelling evidence”

Professor Stephen Durham, Professor of Allergy and Respiratory Medicine, Imperial College London, and Honorary Consultant physician at the Royal Brompton Hospital, says: “Professor Chris Brightling’s group in Leicester provide compelling evidence that a novel tablet treatment, Fevipiprant taken twice daily and on top of usual medication, has the ability to reduce asthmatic inflammation, increase lung function and improve asthma control in this severe group.

“The data strongly support further studies to see whether Fevipiprant may also reduce the frequency of asthma attacks, avoid steroid side effects and reduce NHS costs in the management of these severely ill patients.”

Professor Brightling is now leading another trial involving 850 asthma patients to assess the effectiveness of the drug in a larger group, with results expected in 2018.

For more information on asthma symptoms, visit Asthma UK.

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