Stratified approaches to the treatment of asthma



Stephen T. Holgate, Clinical & Experimental Sciences Academic Unit, Faculty of Medicine, Level F, South Block, MP810, Southampton General Hospital, Tremona Road, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK.

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While asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder that is managed with inhaled controller and reliever drugs, there remains a large unmet need at the severe end of the disease spectrum. Here, a novel stratified approach to its treatment is reviewed, based upon identification of causal pathways, with a focus on biologics. A systematic search of the literature was made using Medline, and publications were selected on the basis of their relevance to the topic. Despite strong preclinical data for many of the more recently identified asthma targets, especially those relating to the T-helper 2 allergic pathway, clinical trials with specific biologics in moderate to severe asthma as a group have been disappointing. However, subgroup analyses based upon pathway-specific biomarkers suggest specific endotypes that are responsive. Application of hypothesis-free analytical approaches (the ‘omics’) to well-defined phenotypes is leading to the stratification of asthma along causal pathways. Refinement of this approach is likely to be the future for diagnosing and treating this group of diseases, as well as helping to define new causal pathways. The identification of responders and nonresponders to targeted asthma treatments provides a new way of looking at asthma diagnosis and management, especially with biologics that are costly. The identification of novel biomarkers linked to well-phenotyped patients provides a stratified approach to disease management beyond simple disease severity and involving causal pathways. In order to achieve this effectively, a closer interaction will be required between industry (therapeutic and diagnostic), academia and health workers.