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New asthma treatment takes different approach, shows promise

Biologics target specific pathways that trigger symptoms

HOUSTON – About 25 million Americans suffer from asthma. For people with severe forms of the disease, every breath can be a struggle. Now, there’s new hope for those patients.

A year ago, Lynn Kocka never dreamed she’d be able to exercise. Her severe asthma made just about every activity a challenge.

“I would take a few feet running, and I would cough, so I couldn’t do it so much,” Kocka said.

Kocka tried inhalers and oral medications, but nothing eased her symptoms.

“I could never understand quite why I couldn’t get rid of all of this congestion,” she said.

Then, Kocka’s doctors at the Cleveland Clinic suggested she try something new: a class of medicines called biologics.

“For patients with severe asthma, who have been suffering for years, this is now the time where we are seeing some hope,” asthma specialist Dr. Sumita Khatri said.

Standard treatments for asthma only address inflammation in the body. Biologics target specific pathways that trigger symptoms. For instance, they can zero in on an antibody that’s known to cause an allergic response in people with allergic asthma.

“If we can figure out which pathway is particularly causing the most problems, then we can try to target that,” Khatri added.

There are currently three biologics on the market, but many more are in development. In clinical trials, the drugs lowered asthma flare-ups, some by about 50 percent. They also lowered the rate of hospital and ER visits and reduced the need for steroid drugs.

Kocka receives an injection of a biologic every four weeks. She said she noticed improvement right away.

“Within three days, it was phenomenal,” Kocka said.

Now she can do anything and go anywhere without her asthma holding her back.

“You get your life back, totally, 100 percent,” she said.

 

Candidates for biologic treatment are patients with severe forms of asthma that haven’t been helped by standard treatments.