The first new asthma pill in two decades has just completed its third phase of clinical trials, and not only did patients report instant relief - the pill actually started to repair the lining of their airways.
Taken twice daily, the pill was shown to reduce inflammation by 80 percent in people with moderate-to-severe asthma.
"This research shows massive promise and should be greeted with cautious optimism," said Samantha Walker from charity organisation Asthma UK, which was not involved in the research. "The possibility of taking a pill instead of using an inhaler will be a very welcome one among the 5.4 million people in the UK with asthma."
Researchers from Leicester University in the UK just finished testing the drug, called Fevipiprant, in a phase-III trial. This means it’s already passed phase-I and phase-II trials, which assess safety and severe side effects, and also short-term results on a small group of patients.
The trial involved 61 participants, split into two groups. One group was given 225 mg of the drug twice a day for 12 weeks, and the other were assigned a placebo. Both the Fevipiprant and placebos were taken with existing asthma medications, rather than replacing them.
The effects were tested via a series of breathing tests, airway tissue samples, and CT scans of the chest, but one of the main aims of the trial was to observe the effect of Fevipiprant on the patients' airway inflammation - typically measured via something called sputum eosinophil count.
As the researchers explain, the sputum eosinophil count measures inflammation by detecting levels of a specific type of white blood cell that’s associated with asthma, and is found in higher levels the more severe the condition.
As a baseline, people who don’t have asthma will have less than 1 percent sputum eosinophil count, while those with moderate-to-severe asthma usually have a reading of about 5 percent.
"The rate in people with moderate-to-severe asthma taking [Fevipiprant] was reduced from an average of 5.4 percent to 1.1 percent over 12 weeks," the researchers report in a press release.
The researchers say that this progressive effect, plus indications that the drug was actually repairing damaged airway tissue, could allow patients with severe asthma to stop taking strong medications to deal with their disease.
“I’m really excited by this because this is the first treatment that I’m aware of that has been able to show effects across the board," lead researcher Chris Brightling told Denis Campbell at The Guardian.
"I’m excited by how effective it’s likely to be and also about its potential to reduce the need for patients to take oral steroids. Those people would be able to stop taking those drugs, which would make a huge difference to them."
Of course, there’s still a long way to go before we’ll see the drug on the market - if it even makes it. Brightling told The Guardian, "more than two but less than three years’ time", if everything goes to plan.
He’s now preparing for another clinical trial involving 850 patients, and results are expected some time in 2018. Other studies are also reportedly in the planning stages.
Let’s hope this drug continues to live up to its promise to give asthmatics a better option - or at least sparks more research in an area that’s been dormant for too long.
The results of the trial have been published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine.