Patients with 'difficult to treat' asthma benefited significantly from the anti-viral agent
Scientists are developing a drug that will protect asthma sufferers from life-threatening symptoms caused by the common cold.
A study shows an anti-viral agent known as SNG001 prevented two out of three asthmatics from getting worse after catching a cold, while those on ‘dummy’ treatment found it more difficult to breathe.
Researchers believe the drug could potentially help up to one in five patients with severe asthma who are most at risk of life-threatening complications from their condition.
Experts said the drug could be ‘one of the biggest breakthroughs in the last 20 years’ and could be used more widely to protect other patients with chronic lung disease.
Around 5.4 million Britons have asthma, with one-fifth of them being ‘difficult to treat’, and viral infections which spread to the lungs are blamed for eight out of 10 asthma-related attendances at hospital A& E departments.
The latest research was carried out by scientists from the University of Southampton and Synairgen, a respiratory drug development company spun out from the University.
They compared the new drug with placebo or ‘dummy’ treatment in 134 adult asthma patients, with ‘mild-moderate’ through to ‘severe’ asthma, who caught a cold.
Patients with ‘difficult to treat’ asthma - approximately half of the patients in the trial - benefited significantly from SNG001.
Results showed that SNG001 prevented asthma symptoms from getting worse during the first week of infection and treatment.
There was a 65 per cent reduction in the number of treated patients experiencing moderate worsening of their asthma, while patients taking placebo had greater loss in lung function.
SNG001 contains interferon beta that occurs naturally in the body, which is inhaled via a nebuliser to stop the virus taking hold in the lungs.
Professor Stephen Holgate CBE, leading international asthma specialist at the University of Southampton and founder of Synairgen, said ‘This is a really promising breakthrough for the future treatment of asthma and one of the most exciting developments that I have seen in years.
‘This is the first clinical study which appears to demonstrate that, by boosting the antiviral defences of the lungs of asthmatics rather than trying to inhibit rapidly evolving viruses, we can limit the adverse effects of viral infection significantly to prevent worsening of asthma symptoms in a high risk group of patients.
‘Not only have we established the potential of SNG001 as a novel treatment for viral exacerbations in difficult to treat asthma but also a crucial link between viral infection, asthma symptoms and severity of disease.’
He said evidence suggests the drug could be used against swine flu and other viruses as a powerful broad spectrum antiviral respiratory drug in lung diseases such as COPD and pandemic flu.
Professor Ratko Djukanovic, a clinical respiratory specialist at the University of Southampton and Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust and Director of the Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit, said: ‘This trial, conducted by several UK academic respiratory experts, provides the first evidence of an effective anti-viral drug that can boost the asthmatic patient’s immune system to fight viruses and thus significantly reduce the impact of virus infections on asthma control.
‘Scientists at the University of Southampton, who made the discovery of innate immune deficiency in asthma, have long suspected that the need to correct the deficiency is greatest in patients with severe asthma: we now have compelling evidence that this is the case.’
Leanne Metcalf, Assistant Director of Research at Asthma UK, which backed the study, said ‘This has the potential to be one of the biggest breakthroughs in asthma treatments in the past 20 years.
‘We are incredibly excited by the possibilities this research could bring to reduce hospital admissions and deaths as a result of asthma attacks.
‘Over 80 per cent of asthma attacks are triggered by cold and flu viruses, and until now we haven't had any effective treatments that can stop this from happening.
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