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Antibody drug reduces asthma attacks in urban children, UW-led study finds

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Asthma inhalers from Propeller Health in Madison collect data on usage.

An antibody drug decreased asthma attacks by 27% in Black and Hispanic children and adolescents who have severe asthma, are prone to asthma attacks and live in low-income urban neighborhoods, a federally funded study led by UW-Madison researchers found.

The drug, mepolizumab, marketed by GlaxoSmithKline as Nucala, reduced the activity of three networks of genes associated with airway inflammation, researchers discovered by studying genes in cells from participants’ nasal secretions. The activity of six other such networks did not decrease.

Medications like mepolizumab have “revolutionized” treatment for adults with severe asthma, but data in children and diverse populations had been limited, said Dr. Daniel Jackson, a UW School of Medicine and Public Health professor of pediatrics who led the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Daniel Jackson


“Our findings confirm that mepolizumab is also effective in reducing the number of asthma exacerbations in children, albeit to a lesser extent than was observed in the adult trials,” Jackson said in a statement.

An estimated 2.3 million U.S. children and adolescents experienced an asthma attack in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Black and Hispanic children in low-income urban environments are at high risk for asthma that is prone to attacks, according to the NIH. The children often have many allergies and are exposed to high levels of indoor allergens and traffic-related pollution, which can make their asthma more difficult to control.

The study enrolled 290 children ages 6 to 17 years from nine U.S. cities, with 70% of them Black and 25% Hispanic. Asthma control improved regardless of whether participants received mepolizumab or a placebo, researchers found. The finding suggests that by taking part in the study, the children benefited from frequent clinic visits and had better adherence to using asthma inhalers, the NIH said.

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