A new type of asthma drug (duplimab) meant to attack the underlying causes of the respiratory disease slashed episodes by 87 percent in a mid-stage trial, making it a potential game changer for patients with moderate to severe disease, researchers said on Tuesday.
“Overall, these are the most exciting data we’ve seen in asthma in 20 years,” said Dr. Sally Wenzel, lead investigator for the 104-patient study of dupilumab, an injectable treatment being developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc and French drugmaker Sanofi.
The drug also met all its secondary goals, such as improving symptoms and lung function and reducing the need for standard drugs called beta agonists.
“We have been treating asthma with sort of Band-Aid therapies that didn’t get at the underlying causes,” Wenzel said in an interview, adding that dupilumab could be an important step in going to the root of the problem.
“By end of the trial, after 12 weeks, 44 percent of those in the placebo group had exacerbations, compared with 5 percent of those on dupilumab,” Wenzel said. That represented an 87 percent reduction in exacerbations, which was highly statistically significant.
Wenzel said dupilumab was well tolerated, with side effects similar to placebo. But she cautioned that longer trials are needed to fully assess the drug.
Regeneron and Sanofi said standard drugs are unable to control asthma in 10 to 20 percent of patients. They estimate that inflammation caused by Th2 cells – the type of inflammation among patients they tested – affects up to 2.5 million people in the United States and up to 30 million worldwide.
Dupilumab has also shown strong hints of safety and effectiveness in two early-stage trials that involved 67 patients with atopic dermatitis. Larger studies are slated to begin later this year.