New Hope for Severe Asthma: Could an Eczema Drug Improve Your Asthma & Lung Function?
Treating severe, persistent asthma is challenging. Often, people who have severe asthma do not respond well enough to even the strongest asthma medications. Asthma control becomes difficult to achieve. However, two recent studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine offer new hope for severe asthmatics. Scientists have found that a drug originally designed to treat eczema may also be effective as an add-on treatment in controlling asthma.
The Link Between Asthma and Eczema
Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is an allergic reaction of the skin, in the form of inflammation. Symptoms include a dry, scaly, red rash that itches. It may turn into open, weeping sores when scratched. The rash is most common behind the knees and in front of the elbows, but can occur anywhere on the body. More than 30 million people have eczema, most commonly children.
And approximately 20% of asthmatics have moderate to severe asthma, with recurring flare-ups and symptoms that persist despite aggressive asthma treatments.
Research has shown that there is a strong link between eczema and asthma, as well as allergies. Children whose parents have a history of asthma are at high risk of developing eczema during infancy or early childhood. Then, they often go on to develop nasal allergies and asthma as well. This phenomenon is called the “atopic march.”
Details of the First Study
The eczema drug showing such promise for treating severe asthma is called dupilamub. It is an anti-inflammatory medication, designed for use in moderate to severe eczema. Both studies suggest that this drug will reduce asthma symptoms and help people with hard to control asthma to breathe better.
The first study was led by researcher Dr. Mario Castro, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. It was a double-blind, randomized study. Here are the details:
- 1,902 participants with moderate to severe asthma; half were treated with dupilamub, while the other half received placebo
- Half the participants receiving dupilamub got a higher dose
- Dupilamub was given every 2 weeks by subcutaneous injection
- All participants were receiving multiple asthma medications prior to starting the study
- Study lasted for 1 year
The results in those who received dupilamub were significant:
- Fewer asthma symptoms and significantly lower rates of severe asthma exacerbations (flares)
- Improved lung function, as measured by Forced Expiratory Volume (FEV1), a lung function test that measures the volume of air you can forcefully exhale
- Fewer visits to the emergency room for asthma
- Better asthma control
There were no significant differences in results between the participants who received the higher dose or dupilamub vs. the lower dose.
Details of the Second Study
Dr. Castro also contributed to the second study, but the lead researcher was Dr. Klaus F. Rabe, who is a professor of pulmonary medicine at the University of Kiel in Germany. This study was of a smaller scale, but had similar results. Participants in this research not only used multiple inhalers; they were also on oral steroids (prednisone) for at least 6 months prior to starting the study.
Here are the details of this study:
- 210 participants; randomly assigned to either dupilamub or placebo
- Study lasted 24 weeks
As with the first study, the results from this study were impressive.
- Same improvements in lung function and asthma control
- Fewer exacerbations and less frequent visits to the emergency room
- 80% of participants who received dupilamub were able to reduce their prednisone dose by half
- 50% of participants were able to be weaned off prednisone completely
Severe asthma can be disabling, with missed days at school and/or work. It can also greatly reduce quality of life. Plus, severe asthma often worsens over time, as lung function continues to decline. People who must use steroids for long periods of time can experience serious side effects from prednisone, including diabetes, cataracts and osteoporosis.
So, a treatment that can improve asthma symptoms, prevent exacerbations and actually make it easier to breathe is extremely promising. Talk with your doctor to learn more about this medication and to explore whether it might be right for you.