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Experimental Drug May Dampen Severe Asthma
Date:3/4/2009

In small studies, mepolizumab reduced number of exacerbations,,,,

WEDNESDAY, March 4 (HealthDay News) -- A new type of asthma therapy might be especially helpful for people with severe asthma who often have to take oral steroids to control their symptoms.

The drug is called mepolizumab, and two small studies in the March 5 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine have found that, when taken regularly, it can reduce asthma exacerbations. Additionally, people taking the drug had lower levels of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell that has been implicated as a potential cause of asthma.

"This is a new treatment which substantially reduces the risk of asthma attacks in a severe asthma population," said the senior author of one of the studies, Dr. Ian Pavord, a consultant physician and an honorary professor of medicine at Glenfield Hospital, University Hospitals of Leicester, England.

Dr. Paul O'Byrne, the senior author of the other study, added that "we now have a likely new treatment modality that will improve outcomes and reduce exacerbations in severe prednisone-dependent asthma, and this is not a small population -- it's probably 2 to 4 percent of the asthmatic population." O'Byrne is chairman of the Department of Medicine at McMaster University and executive director of the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health at St. Joseph's Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Both studies were funded by GlaxcoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company that is developing the drug.

He said that mepolizumab works by blocking a protein called interleukin-5, which is essential for the development of eosinophils. Eosinophils have long been implicated in asthma, though their exact role remains unclear. However, scientists do know that when an asthma exacerbation occurs, eosinophil levels usually rise.

In the first study, Pavord and his colleagues randomly placed 61 people with severe a
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