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If approved, the drug, tezepelumab, could join a group of costly medicationsthat appear to offer relief when nothing else curbs respiratory distress.
"A new era has begun in which many new drugs are being developed for patients with severe asthma," said Dr. Elisabeth Bel, a professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
"Similar to what has happened for rheumatoid arthritis, I expect that in a few years effective treatments will be available for almost all patients with severe asthma," said Bel, author of a commentary accompanying the new study.
The new research was funded by the drug's developers, Amgen and MedImmune, a subsidiary of AstraZeneca.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease. Bel said an estimated 15 percent of asthma patients can't control the disease with current inhaled medications.
"They have severe disease with persistent airway inflammation, which causes continuous symptoms of breathlessness and exercise intolerance," Bel said. This also puts them at risk of severe attacks for which they have to be hospitalized, she added.
Tezepelumab, an injectable drug, is a monoclonal antibody -- a term that refers to how it's made.
Drugs in this category help many patients with severe asthma, but not all of them, Bel said. That's because the disease comes in different types, she explained.
The new study represents the second of three phases of research required before a drug can be approved in the United States. Researchers wanted to understand tezepelumab's effects on asthma patients who'd suffered at least one asthma attack that required hospitalization within the past year, or two attacks that forced physicians to increase their medication level.
The 584 study patients with severe asthma were nonsmokers, aged 18 to 75, who used asthma inhalers. They were randomly divided into low-dose, medium-dose or high-dose groups, or assigned to take a sham ("placebo") drug.
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