In Depth

How a new pill could reduce asthma attacks

The drug Fevipiprant improves air flow to the lungs by removing muscle in the airway lining, a study has shown

Scientists from the University of Leicester have successfully trialled a new pill that reduces asthma attacks by targeting airway muscles.

The experimental drug Fevipiprant “is the first oral treatment for asthma in 20 years”, says the Press Association.

The new study shows that the drug works by reducing the amount of muscle in the airway lining. Previous trials had shown that it improves breathing, reduces inflammation and helps to repair the lining of patients’ airways but the new study is the first to show exactly how it does it.

Professor Chris Brightling, from the University of Leicester, said: “Our research shows for the first time that Fevipiprant not only reduces inflammation in the airways, but also reduces the amount of muscle in the lining of the airway. This is likely to explain some of the effects seen in the symptoms and breathing tests following treatment.”

He added: “Our findings suggest that Fevipiprant could have positive long-term effects upon the progression of the disease through remodelling, as well as improve symptoms and reduce attacks.”

The asthma drug “specifically blocks the activation of a muscle protein, which reduces the movement of the immature muscle cells from forming a bundle and blocking the airway”, says Sky News.

There are more than 300 million people who are affected by asthma worldwide and the number is increasing. In the UK there are roughly around 500,000 people who have moderate to severe forms of asthma.

Currently “there are no drugs available on the NHS which treat the build-up of smooth muscle mass as a method of reducing asthma symptoms”, adds Sky News.

For people with severe asthma, “a procedure called thermoplasty, which uses thermal energy to decrease the amount of smooth muscle in the airways, may be offered”, says Medical Xpress. This requires “sedation in hospital and is not a cure, nor suitable for everyone”, the website adds.

Most people in the UK affected by asthma are able to routinely manage the condition with inhaled drugs and steroids.

But Fevipiprant could offer sufferers a way to avoid some of the side-effects associated with using steroids including weight gain.

Dr Himanshu Kaul, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Biomedical Engineering at the University of British Columbia who helped with the trial, said: "Our computer model represents a milestone towards patient-specific models in respiratory medicine that has the potential to help design new drugs and optimise existing therapies."

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