AstraZeneca's benralizumab injection lowered the risk of exacerbations in asthma patients by half, reports a study presented at the European Respiratory Society in London on Sept. 5.

A monthly benralizumab jab is observed to reduce symptoms of severe asthma, such as wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness, by 51 percent. The drug is effective in patients who are already taking high doses of long-acting beta agonists (LABA) and inhaled corticosteroids (ISC).

Eosinophils, a type of white blood cells (WBC) responsible for allergy and asthma, are present in high levels in the bloodstream and airways of patients suffering from exacerbations and lung dysfunction. To be able to keep asthma and allergy in check, eosinophils involved in the process should be taken care of.

The drugs mepolizumab and reslizumab, which are currently available in the market, works by stopping the maturation of eosinophils through targeting Cytokine interleukin-5 (IL-5). IL-5 drives proliferation, maturation and release of eosinophils into the bloodstream. However, AstraZeneca's benralizumab, like other drugs, targets IL-5 but results in eosinophil apoptosis or death of eosinophils.

To test the effect of benralizumab in patients with severe, uncontrolled asthma, the researchers conducted two different trials, CALIMA and SIROCCO, which included 1,306 and 1,209 patients, respectively. The treatment includes administration of 30 milligrams (mg) benralizumab every four weeks for group one and 30 mg benralizumab every eight weeks for group two. The third group used a placebo. The CALIMA trial was conducted for 56 weeks, and the SIROCCO trial was conducted for 48 weeks.

In CALIMA, the first of two trials, benralizumab was observed to have reduced the exacerbation rates by 28 to 36 percent, while in SIROCCO, the exacerbation rates were found to have declined by 45 to 51 percent. Total asthma score as well as lung function were also observed to have improved with benralizumab treatment. Four mortalities during CALIMA and five mortalities during SIROCCO trial periods were recorded. However, the deaths were not associated with benralizumab treatment.

Professor J. Mark FitzGerald, lead author of the CALIMA, said that benralizumab treatment between every four- and eight-week duration was found to be effective in decreasing eosinophil count and symptoms of severe asthma.

"Additional therapeutic options to control severe asthma are urgently needed and our findings support the use of benralizumab as an add-on therapy for the treatment of severe asthma with persistent eosinophilia," added FitzGerald.

The study was published online in the journal The Lancet on Sept. 4.

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