Roche’s ‘personalised health’ asthma drug shows promise

A new drug to tackle severe uncontrolled asthma has been shown to reduce attacks by 60% in a sub-group of patients.

Roche’s lebrikizumab appears most effective in patients with high levels of periostin, a protein that indicates a certain type of asthma.

The biomarker periostin provides a personalised healthcare approach currently absent in asthma, and Roche says it will continue to evaluate its role in trials.

The firm has just released data from its LUTE / VERSE phase IIb studies of lebrikizumab in which showed it cut attacks by 60% in patients with high levels of periostin, compared to only 5% in patients with a low levels. Patients with high periostin levels saw lung function improved by lebrikizumab.

A quarter of a million people worldwide are estimated to die every year from asthma, with current asthma medicines not effective in all patients. Doctors currently have limited knowledge of how or if a patient will benefit, thus Roche’s latest research represents a move towards ‘personalised’ or ‘stratified medicine’ in asthma.

Lebrikizumab is a novel monoclonal antibody designed to block interleukin-13 (IL-13), a cytokine that contributes to airway inflammation and asthma in some patients.

The drug is currently being evaluated severe asthma in two phase III studies called LAVOLTA I and LAVOLTA II, and in a total of seven ongoing or planned clinical studies, including one for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

Severe asthma affects around 15 million people and can severely limit activity and is sometimes fatal. Current treatments include inhaled corticosteroids and a second controller medication such as corticosteroid pills or long-acting bronchodilators.

Roche’s already has Xolair (omalizumab) in its asthma portfolio and Pulmozyme (dornase alfa) for cystic fibrosis as part of its wider immunology portfolio. The firm’s late stage immunology pipeline also includes etrolizumab for ulcerative colitis and lebrikizumab for severe asthma.

Other companies have new treatments for severe asthma in their pipelines. Teva’s Cinquil and GlaxoSmithKline’s mepolizumab, both target overproduction of a class of white blood cells, eosinophils, associated with allergic reactions such as asthma.

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