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New Inhaled Drug Could Treat Asthma, Allergies

Quilizumab quells production of protein that triggers reaction to allergens, researchers report
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A new inhaled medication has the potential to treat mild asthma and allergies by interrupting the production of an immune system protein that triggers allergic reactions, a new study reports.

The drug, quilizumab, targets the blood cells that produce a protein called immunoglobulin type E (IgE), that serves a key role in allergies.

Quilizumab lowered total levels of IgE in the blood of people with allergies and mild asthma, and kept them low for a month, researchers report in the July 2 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

"The subjects who received the drug not only had a reduction in their total IgE level, it also seemed to block production of new IgE in response to the allergen they inhaled," said study co-author Dr. Jeffrey Harris, principal medical director of immunology, tissue growth and repair for the drug manufacturer Genentech, which produces quilizumab and funded the study.

However, one expert noted that the drug has yet to prove itself against moderate to severe asthma.

IgE is present in minute amounts in the body, but plays a major role in allergic diseases.

The protein binds to allergens upon first exposure, and then triggers the release of inflammatory substances when a person is re-exposed to the same allergens, creating an allergic response and, potentially, an asthma attack.

There currently is only one medication that specifically targets IgE, an injectable drug called omalizumab that binds to the protein in the bloodstream and neutralizes it.

Experts say quilizumab has the potential to replace the existing drug because it is more convenient and longer lasting.

Patients on omalizumab must receive one to three injections every two to four weeks, Harris said. If quilizumab proves as effective as it was in this early study, patients may only need to inhale a dose every three months or so.

"This could be very exciting, if it works," said Dr. Bradley Chipps, an allergist in Sacramento, Calif. "It could be even more effective than omalizumab, which binds to IgE after it's produced. This drug tries to keep it from being produced."

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