THURSDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- An experimental drug known as mepolizumab may reduce outbreaks by almost 50 percent in people with a type of hard-to-treat asthma, an early study finds.
About a third of people with severe asthma have what is called eosinophilic asthma, in which inflammatory cells called eosinophils cause swelling of lung airways. Standard asthma treatment with inhaled steroids isn't effective, so these patients take oral steroids, which have many side effects, the researchers explained.
Mepolizumab blocks the production of eosinophils and reduces the frequency of severe asthma outbreaks, which may reduce the need for steroids, the researchers said.
The new drug is a monoclonal antibody, a class of drugs involving naturally occurring human antibodies that are genetically altered in a laboratory, cloned in large numbers and introduced into the patient to target disease sites.
"This is a promising new drug treatment," said lead researcher Dr. Ian Pavord, a consultant physician at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, in England. "I think it's going to become a viable treatment and it offers hope to a group of people that are having really big problems with their asthma."
The purpose of this trial was to find out the best dose of the drug and to identify the type of patients most likely to benefit from it, Pavord said.
"It's been a successful study, because we have established the drug is effective even in low doses and patients can be identified through a blood test," Pavord said.
Some patients taking mepolizumab may be able to reduce the amount of steroids they take, Pavord said.
"If that were the case it would be very attractive to the patient," he said.
GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of mepolizumab, funded the trial. The findings were published Aug. 16 in the online edition of the journal The Lancet.
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