Asthma is a burdensome disease of the lungs that causes wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing. But for the estimated 39.5 million people in the United States who have been affected by this disease, hope may come in pill form.
Though it can be controlled by taking medicine and avoiding triggers, asthma is a long-term condition that can affect many people throughout their lifetime.
Now, new research - funded by Novartis Pharmaceuticals, the United Kingdom National Institute for Health Research, and the European Union Airway Disease Predicting Outcomes through Patient Specific Computational Modelling (AirPROM) program - shows that the first new asthma pill in almost 20 years shows promise in significantly reducing the severity of asthma.
The research was led by Prof. Chris Brightling, from the University of Leicester in the U.K., who says the pill "could be a game changer for future treatment of asthma."
The results are published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal.
In total, 61 people took part in the study, and they were divided into two groups. One group was given 225 milligrams of the drug - called Fevipiprant - twice a day for 12 weeks. Meanwhile, the other group was given a placebo pill.
Both Fevipiprant and the placebo were taken in addition to the medications the participants were already taking.
Pill improved lung function and has favorable safety profile
For their study, the researchers set out to assess the drug's effects on inflammation of the airway, by measuring sputum eosinophil count. This is an inflammation measurement of a white blood cell, which increases in asthma and is used to measure asthma severity.
For example, people without asthma typically have less than a 1 percent reading, while those with moderate-to-severe asthma have a reading of around 5 percent.
Study results showed that participants with moderate-to-severe asthma who took Fevipiprant had a reading that reduced from an average of 5.4 percent to just 1.1 percent over the course of 12 weeks.
Prof. Brightling says their study was unique in that 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."
"Most treatments might improve some of these features of disease, but with Fevipiprant, improvements were seen with all of the types of tests. We already know that using treatments to target eosinophilic airway inflammation can substantially reduce asthma attacks.
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."
Prof. Christopher Brightling
The study authors add that the pill had a favorable safety profile; there were no deaths or serious adverse events reported, and there were no patient withdrawals that were related to the drug.
Next steps include evaluation of the pill in late-stage clinical trials for efficacy in patients with severe asthma.
Prof. Brightling adds that future treatment of diseases such as asthma will likely move from a "one-size-fits-all approach" to one that is tailored to treating individual patients.