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2011 NIAID Year In Review

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Drug Reduces Seasonal Asthma Attacks in Inner-City Youth

Asthma affects more than 25 million people in the United States. It is the most common chronic condition among children and disproportionately affects children in poor urban communities. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma attacks tend to increase during the spring and fall, when more allergens are in the air and respiratory viral infections are more prevalent.

Photo of a young woman participating in a clinical trial of an antibody-based treatment for asthma. The clinical trial is being conducted as part of the NIAID-funded Inner-City Asthma Consortium
Lisa Gagalis, R.N. (right), a study coordinator at Boston University Medical Campus, performs lung-function testing on research participant Ashley Mendez. Ms Mendez is enrolled in a clinical trial of omalizumab, an antibody-based treatment for asthma. This trial is being conducted as part of the NIAID-funded Inner-City Asthma Consortium. Credit: Vivian Borek Photo

NIAID-supported researchers observed that adding the drug omalizumab to National Institutes of Health guidelines-based asthma therapy nearly eliminated seasonal increases in asthma attacks and decreased asthma symptoms among young people living in inner-city environments. Omalizumab targets the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE), a key player in allergic diseases.

The 60-week study enrolled 419 participants, ages 6 to 20 years old, who had been diagnosed with moderate-to-severe allergic asthma lasting more than one year. In addition to receiving standard therapy, the participants were assigned at random to receive either omalizumab or a placebo treatment.

At the end of the study, when researchers compared participants who received omalizumab with those who received placebo, they found a 25 percent reduction in days with asthma symptoms and a 38 percent reduction in the number of people who experienced at least one asthma attack. The participants who received omalizumab also had a 75 percent reduction in hospitalizations. Importantly, the spring and fall increases in asthma attacks that were seen in participants receiving placebo were almost eliminated in those receiving omalizumab. 

Reference: Busse WW, Morgan WJ, Gergen PJ, Mitchell HE, Gern JE, Liu AH, Gruchalla RS, Kattan M, Teach SJ, Pongracic JA, Chmiel JF, Steinbach SF, Calatroni A, Togias A, Thompson KM, Szefler SJ, Sorkness CA. Randomized trial of omalizumab (anti-IgE) for asthma in inner-city children. N Engl J Med. 2011 Mar 17;364(11):1005-15.

Last Updated January 07, 2013

Last Reviewed January 07, 2013