Many patients with severe asthma require regular treatment with oral glucocorticoids despite the use of high-dose inhaled therapy. However, the regular use of systemic glucocorticoids can result in serious and often irreversible adverse effects.
Mepolizumab ( Volibris ), a humanized monoclonal antibody that binds to and inactivates interleukin-5, has been shown to reduce asthma exacerbations in patients with severe eosinophilic asthma.
In a randomized, double-blind trial involving 135 patients with severe eosinophilic asthma, researchers have compared the glucocorticoid-sparing effect of Mepolizumab ( at a dose of 100 mg ) with that of placebo administered subcutaneously every 4 weeks for 20 weeks.
The primary outcome was the degree of reduction in the glucocorticoid dose ( 90 to 100% reduction, 75 to less than 90% reduction, 50 to less than 75% reduction, more than 0 to less than 50% reduction, or no decrease in oral glucocorticoid dose, a lack of asthma control during weeks 20 to 24, or withdrawal from treatment ).
Other outcomes included the rate of asthma exacerbations, asthma control, and safety.
The likelihood of a reduction in the glucocorticoid-dose stratum was 2.39 times greater in the Mepolizumab group than in the placebo group ( 95% confidence interval, 1.25 to 4.56; P=0.008 ).
The median percentage reduction from baseline in the glucocorticoid dose was 50% in the Mepolizumab group, as compared with no reduction in the placebo group ( P=0.007 ).
Despite receiving a reduced glucocorticoid dose, patients in the Mepolizumab group, as compared with those in the placebo group, had a relative reduction of 32% in the annualized rate of exacerbations ( 1.44 vs. 2.12, P=0.04 ) and a reduction of 0.52 points with respect to asthma symptoms ( P=0.004 ), as measured on the Asthma Control Questionnaire 5 ( in which the minimal clinically important difference is 0.5 points ).
The safety profile of Mepolizumab was similar to that of placebo.
In patients requiring daily oral glucocorticoid therapy to maintain asthma control, Mepolizumab had a significant glucocorticoid-sparing effect, reduced exacerbations, and improved control of asthma symptoms. ( Xagena )
Bel EH et al, N Engl J Med 2014; 371:1189-1197