The first new asthma drug for nearly 20 years could have the power to significantly reduce the severity of the condition, researchers have found.
The new drug, which has been hailed as a “game changer”, could reduce the number of people who die from the condition.
Ireland has the highest prevalence of asthma in Europe and the fourth- highest in the world. It is estimated that 460,000 people here suffer from the condition and on average, one person a week dies from an asthma attack.
The pill, called Fevipiprant, was shown to reduce inflammation and repair the lining of the airways in a study led by the University of Leicester.
Fevipiprant, which is being developed by Novartis, reduced a biological marker of asthma nearly five-fold in the 12-week trial involving 61 patients, researchers said. No serious adverse events were reported.
Larger and longer studies are now needed to prove that the twice-daily pill can also reduce severe asthma attacks, known as exacerbations. Novartis believes the medicine could be filed for regulatory approval in around 2019.
Pills for asthma used to be standard treatment 40 or 50 years ago, but those older products were often associated with worrying side effects. They have since been replaced by inhalers that deliver small amounts of drugs directly into the lungs.
The Novartis pill works in a very precise way to block the action of inflammatory cells called eosinophils.
Professor Chris Brightling, senior research fellow at the University of Leicester, said: “A unique feature of this study was how it included measurements of symptoms, lung function using breathing tests, sampling of the airway wall and CT scans of the chest to give a complete picture of how the new drug works.
“This new treatment, Fevipiprant, could likewise help to stop preventable asthma attacks, reduce hospital admissions and improve day-to-day symptoms – making it a ‘game changer’ for future treatment.”
The drug is currently being evaluated in late stage clinical trials and Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at Asthma UK, said the research shows “massive promise and should be greeted with cautious optimism”.
“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.”
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