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Keywords:

  • anti-immunoglobulin E;
  • exacerbations;
  • Global Initiative for Asthma 2002 step 4 therapy;
  • omalizumab;
  • severe persistent asthma

Background:  Patients with severe persistent asthma who are inadequately controlled despite Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) 2002 step 4 therapy are a challenging population with significant unmet medical need. We determined the effect of omalizumab on clinically significant asthma exacerbations (requiring systemic corticosteroids) in the first omalizumab study to exclusively enrol patients from this difficult-to-treat patient population.

Methods:  Following a run-in phase, patients (12–75 years) inadequately controlled despite therapy with high-dose inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) and long-acting β2-agonists (LABA) with reduced lung function and a recent history of clinically significant exacerbations were randomized to receive omalizumab or placebo for 28 weeks in a double-blind, parallel-group, multicentre study.

Results:  A total of 419 patients were included in the efficacy analyses. The clinically significant asthma exacerbation rate (primary efficacy variable), adjusted for an observed relevant imbalance in history of clinically significant asthma exacerbations, was 0.68 with omalizumab and 0.91 with placebo (26% reduction) during the 28-week treatment phase (P =  0.042). Without adjustment, a similar magnitude of effect was seen (19% reduction), but this did not reach statistical significance. Omalizumab significantly reduced severe asthma exacerbation rate (0.24 vs 0.48, P =  0.002) and emergency visit rate (0.24 vs 0.43, P = 0.038). Omalizumab significantly improved asthma-related quality of life, morning peak expiratory flow and asthma symptom scores. The incidence of adverse events was similar between treatment groups.

Conclusions:  In patients with inadequately controlled severe persistent asthma, despite high-dose ICS and LABA therapy, and often additional therapy, omalizumab significantly reduced the rate of clinically significant asthma exacerbations, severe exacerbations and emergency visits. Omalizumab is effective and should be considered as add-on therapy for patients with inadequately controlled severe persistent asthma who have a significant unmet need despite best available therapy.