Asthma drug discovery

May 22, 2012, King's College London
Asthma drug discovery

(Medical Xpress) -- Researchers from King’s College London have uncovered a new mechanism of action for a group of asthma drugs already on the market, which could enable more effective treatment for patients with a particular type of allergic asthma – between 30 to 50 per cent of sufferers.   

A team of scientists and clinicians from the MRC & UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma at King’s College London, part of King’s Health Partners, have identified why a group of drugs known as Leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs) are effective in some asthma cases, but not others. The researchers say further studies in are needed, but this information points towards a more targeted effective treatment option that could remove the need for steroids and improve outcomes in this group of patients.  

Until now LTRAs were believed to suppress wheezing by preventing the airway smooth muscles in the lung contracting. But this new study, published online today in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, suggests these drugs may also stop the inflammation that causes asthma by targeting T-cells that are known to be critical to asthma development in between 30 to 50 percent of cases.

The researchers examined human TH2 cells (a type of T-cell) donated by asthma patients from Guy’s Hospital, and compared these to similar cells that do not cause asthma. The researchers found that receptors, called Cysteinyl leukotriene receptors (CysLTRs), were highly expressed in the TH2 cells. During an asthma attack chemicals called leukotrienes (LTs) are produced which bind to the CysLTRs and cause inflammation in the lung. When a type of LTRA drug was introduced to the cells, the drugs blocked the CysLTRs on TH2 cells.

Recently researchers in the US have developed a blood test to identify which patients’ asthma is caused by T-cell inflammation. The King’s researchers say that in the future a test like this could be used to identify which patients might benefit from LTRAs.

Dr David Cousins, Senior Lecturer from the MRC & Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma at King’s College London, said: ‘"This is an extremely exciting finding which represents a major step forward in our understanding of the mechanisms of asthma treatment.

‘"We already knew that only a certain group of patients respond to LTRA drugs, but for the first time we have a possible reason why – we have identified a new mechanism of action. We now have a more complete picture of how these drugs work so we could in the future target them more effectively to those patients who we know will respond well. LTRAs can easily be taken in tablet-form and could even remove the need for steroids, which is currently the first line of treatment in most cases.

‘We have seen this mechanism in human cells in the lab, and now we would like to carry out further studies in asthma patients’ lungs to see it working in action."’

Although commonly prescribed in the US and mainland Europe, LTRAs are not widely prescribed to patients in the UK.

Dr. Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, said: ‘"Currently leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs) can be a useful addition to inhaled steroids for people with more severe allergic asthma, although it is not yet clear exactly how they work. This research seems to suggest that they play a greater role in fighting inflammation than has previously been thought, which could have important implications in both the selection of people with asthma who might benefit from taking them and the development of new treatments."’

Explore further: Discovery of asthma cause could help treat sufferers

Related Stories

Discovery of asthma cause could help treat sufferers

October 5, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Scientists at the University of Bath have found a new cause of severe asthma that could help develop a treatment and potentially prevent the 1100 asthma deaths each year in the UK.

Asthma pill more user friendly than inhalers -- and no less effective

May 4, 2011
A rarely prescribed asthma drug is easier to use and just as effective as conventional treatment with inhalers, according to a new study led by the University of East Anglia (UEA).

New therapeutic targets for virally-induced asthma attacks suggested

May 29, 2011
When children with asthma get the flu, they often land in the hospital gasping for air. Researchers at Children's Hospital Boston have found a previously unknown biological pathway explaining why influenza induces asthma ...

Research revelation could shape future long-term treatment of asthma

May 26, 2011
A new study reveals that the progressive loss of lung function in asthma sufferers could be entirely independent of the effects of inflammation. The findings have significant implications for the long-term treatment of asthma.

Recommended for you

Novel genomic tools provide new insight into human immune system

January 19, 2018
When the body is under attack from pathogens, the immune system marshals a diverse collection of immune cells to work together in a tightly orchestrated process and defend the host against the intruders. For many decades, ...

Genomics reveals key macrophages' involvement in systemic sclerosis

January 18, 2018
A new international study has made an important discovery about the key role of macrophages, a type of immune cell, in systemic sclerosis (SSc), a chronic autoimmune disease which currently has no cure.

First vaccine developed against grass pollen allergy

January 18, 2018
Around 400 million people worldwide suffer in some form or other from a grass pollen allergy (rhinitis), with the usual symptoms of runny nose, cough and severe breathing problems. In collaboration with the Viennese firm ...

Researchers discover key driver of atopic dermatitis

January 17, 2018
Severe eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that is driven by an allergic reaction. In their latest study, researchers at La Jolla Institute reveal an important player that promotes ...

Who might benefit from immunotherapy? New study suggests possible marker

January 16, 2018
While immunotherapy has made a big impact on cancer treatment, the fact remains that only about a quarter of patients respond to these treatments.

Researchers identify new way to unmask melanoma cells to the immune system

January 16, 2018
system, which enables these deadly skin cancers to grow and spread.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.