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Studies: New Asthma Drug Safe, Effective

Xolair May Also Help With Year-Round Nasal Allergies
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 3, 2003 - Xolair, a first-of-its-kind treatment for asthma, is both safe and effective for long-term use in both adults and children, a study shows. And new research also shows it might treat year-round nasal allergies.

In one study, 245 adults and teens treated with monthly or twice monthly injections of Xolair for a year had far fewer asthma attacks than patients given placebo injections, and the Xolair patients were able to reduce their use of inhaled steroids. The treatment was found to be safe and well tolerated, as was the case in another study involving 225 children under the age of 12 who were treated with Xolair.

Both studies were funded by co-developers of Xolair, Novartis Pharmaceuticals and Genentech Inc., which are WebMD sponsors. The new research is reported in the August issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Xolair Blocks Allergy Antibody

People with allergies and asthma triggered by allergies produce an excess amount of the immune system antibody called IgE, or immunoglobulin E. The only drug of its type, Xolair works by blocking IgE caused by environmental allergy triggers such as pollen, dust, and pet dander.

Xolair was approved by the FDA in June for use in adults and teens with moderate to severe allergic asthma who do not respond well to inhaled steroids and rescue medications. Although roughly 17 million Americans have asthma, incoming American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) president Michael Blaiss, MD, says only about 5% of people with asthma fit into this category.

He adds that Xolair's cost -- which could be in the range of $10,000 a year for patients with severe asthma -- may also keep many eligible patients from getting the treatment.

"It is not a cure-all, but for many patients it can definitely help control severe asthma symptoms and improve quality of life," he tells WebMD. "This gives us another treatment for patients who are not responding to the present medications we use to treat asthma."

From Asthma to Allergies

Trials in children with asthma are ongoing, and, so far, the results have been promising. The latest study found that troubling side effects among a group of children treated with Xolair for a year were similar to those among children treated with placebo.

"This long-awaited drug is one of the most significant breakthroughs in allergic disease management in 30 years, and, although not a cure, will help us keep children with asthma on the playing fields and out of the hospitals," researcher William E. Berger, MD, said in a news release.

Xolair researcher Bobby Quentin Lanier, MD, tells WebMD he believes the drug has much broader uses than are reflected in its FDA approval. In addition to children with asthma, Xolair is being studied in patients with various food and other allergies.

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