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Asthma

Alternative to steroids could 'transform' the lives of people with severe asthma, charity says

Quality of life for individuals with severe asthma could be significantly improved with the use of monoclonal antibodies by avoiding the many side effects of taking oral corticosteroids.

Andy Whittamore, a GP and clinical lead at Asthma UK

Source: Courtesy of Asthma UK

Andy Whittamore, a GP and clinical lead at Asthma UK, said monoclonal antibodies could transform the lives of many people with severe asthma

Monoclonal antibodies could significantly improve quality of life for individuals with severe asthma and reduce the need for oral corticosteroids and their side effects, a leading asthma charity has said.

Asthma UK sought the views of more than 1,200 people with self-reported asthma who had taken oral corticosteroids. It asked respondents to report their experience of any of 29 symptoms collated from clinical and patient experience, and to report other side effects that were not listed. In total, respondents reported an average of 9 of the 29 different listed side effects, the most common being weight gain and difficulty falling asleep at night.

Mental health side effects were also reported, including anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Asthma UK highlighted that many of the 200,000 people with severe asthma — which does not respond to the usual inhaled treatments — have to take oral steroid tablets. However, injectable biologic treatments called monoclonal antibodies are now being developed, which have been shown to reduce asthma attacks and hospital visits and are suitable for some people with severe asthma.

“Many people with mild to moderate asthma will need to take low doses of anti-inflammatory steroids through their preventer inhaler to manage their symptoms and cut their risk of an asthma attack,” explained Andy Whittamore, a GP and clinical lead at Asthma UK.

“However, for the estimated 200,000 people who have a condition called ‘severe asthma’, higher dose steroids tablets and liquids are prescribed long-term to help prevent them having an asthma attack … this long-term use can cause nasty side effects such as weight gain, mood issues, osteoporosis or diabetes.

“But a new type of drug could change this and transform the lives of many people with severe asthma. Monoclonal antibodies are biologic treatments that can be an alternative to long-term steroids, preventing more asthma attacks but with fewer side effects.”

Whittamore added that Asthma UK was calling for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to approve these drugs for more people and for doctors to refer people who might have severe asthma so they can be seen by a specialist, diagnosed and assessed for new drugs.

Asthma UK’s survey results were presented as a poster at the European Respiratory Society Conference, which took place in Paris on 15–19 September 2018. 

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2018.20205524

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