Dupilumab: ‘wonder drug’ injection for severe asthma approved for use by NHS

The drug has been shown to reduce the frequency of asthma attacks and the use of emergency steroid tablets

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A new ‘wonder drug’ for the treatment of uncontrolled asthma has been approved for use on the NHS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Dupilumab has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for some patients whose asthma does not respond to conventional treatments.

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The drug is a monoclonal antibody and is from the same family of drugs that is being used to treat Covid-19, and is also prescribed to treat severe eczema and rhinosinusitis.

The drug has already been approved for use in Scotland since April.

Who will get the drug?

The criteria for accessing the drug is quite strict and will only include patients who have severe asthma with type 2 inflammation, who meet an inflammation threshold and have had at least four severe asthma attacks in the last year, and are ineligible for other biological treatments.

The approval of the drug has been welcomed by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation Partnership, which said it would help to transform the lives of some patients.

Some 200,000 people in the UK suffer regular asthma attacks and emergency trips to hospital, according to the charity.

In clinical trials, dupilumab has been shown to reduce the frequency of asthma attacks and the use of emergency steroid tablets by almost half when combined with standard inhalers.

However, the charity said that current guidelines from NICE are “not clear” about when people with severe asthma should be referred, meaning those most at risk are not being given the treatment they need.

Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and innovation at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “Today’s news could be a real game-changer for the thousands of people with severe asthma across England, Wales and Northern Ireland who live in constant fear of a life-threatening asthma attack happening at any time.

“Severe asthma can have a colossal impact on people’s lives.

“People are stuck in a never-ending cycle of hospital visits, which has a serious and debilitating impact on their home, work and social life.

“While Nice’s decision to recommend dupilumab is cause for celebration, the sad fact is that four in five people with suspected severe asthma are not being referred to specialists for the treatments that could transform, and even save, their lives.

“Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation is calling for Nice to develop new, clear guidelines so healthcare professionals are confident about when to refer patients with possible severe asthma to get the specialist care they so desperately need.

“If you’re experiencing severe asthma symptoms, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation has developed a new online tool to help you get on top of uncontrolled symptoms, work out whether you need to ask your doctor for extra help or a referral, and/or ask for specialist support.”

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