Health & Lifestyle

Eczema jab can slash devastating lung condition that affects more than a million Britons by a THIRD

A jab that soothes itchy skin has been hailed as a breakthrough in the treatment of a devastating lung condition that affects more than a million Britons.

Dupilumab is currently used to treat severe eczema, but a clinical trial has shown it cuts hospital admissions in some patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) – an umbrella term for incurable and disabling lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Patients on the drug were about a third less likely to suffer serious flare-ups that required hospital treatment. The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, also show it boosted lung capacity – reducing breathlessness and making simple tasks such as walking to the shops or climbing stairs much easier.

Experts told The Mail on Sunday that dupilumab is potentially the biggest breakthrough for COPD treatment in decades.

‘This is a very big development,’ says Ian Pavord, professor of respiratory medicine at Oxford University. ‘The results are really exciting and better than anyone had expected. It’s long been somewhat of a desert when it comes to treatment for COPD.’

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) is an umbrella term for incurable and disabling lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) is an umbrella term for incurable and disabling lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis

Professor Sir Peter Barnes, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, says: ‘Most of the treatments currently used in COPD only relieve the symptoms such as breathlessness, persistent coughing and wheezing.

‘But this is the first one to tackle the underlying mechanism that drives the disease.’

COPD, which causes inflamed, damaged or obstructed lungs, is the fourth-leading cause of death in the world. It affects an estimated 1.2 million people in the UK, mostly over 65, and NHS England has said that is set to rise by another 40 per cent by the end of the decade due to increased life expectancy.

The condition already accounts for one in eight of all emergency hospital admissions.

The main cause is smoking, responsible for up to 90 per cent of cases, but studies suggest even ex-smokers are still at risk up to 30 years after quitting. However, air pollution and genetics have also been implicated.

In some types of COPD, the walls of the airways thicken over time and mucus is produced, leaving less space for air to get in and out.

One of the first signs is a cough, but it eventually causes extreme breathlessness and wheezing. Patients can end up needing to wheel an oxygen cylinder around with them just to breathe.

Dupilumab 'is a very big development,¿ according to Ian Pavord, professor of respiratory medicine at Oxford University

Dupilumab ‘is a very big development,’ according to Ian Pavord, professor of respiratory medicine at Oxford University

Current treatment involves medication to dilate the airways or exercise programmes to bolster lung capacity, but there have been no new medicines for more than a decade.

Although the treatment works for some patients, it’s much less effective in those who have a particularly severe type of COPD caused by type 2 inflammation – swelling in the airways as a result of the immune system going into overdrive, causing sudden breathlessness in nearly 200,000 patients in the UK. Type 2 inflammation is also a major trigger in eczema and some people with hard-to-treat asthma.

Dupilumab was initially developed to tackle these conditions by blocking the process that leads to severe inflammation. However, the latest results show the drug can also transform the lives of many COPD sufferers where inflammation is a trigger.

Doctors tested 939 patients and put half on fortnightly jabs of dupilumab and the rest on a placebo, before following them up for at least a year.

The results showed there were a third fewer flare-ups in those on the drug. Some patients started to see an improvement within just two weeks.

Most patients more than doubled the amount of air they could blow out of their lungs in one second – the standard test for the condition.

Although the drug, which costs about £600 a jab, will work only for those where type 2 inflammation is a trigger, doctors say it is still the biggest advance in years.

Professor Pavord adds: ‘There is another big dupilumab trial in COPD due to report next year, and at least six other similar drugs in the pipeline which are expected to be just as good.’

He says the drug could be recommended by NHS watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – and available to patients – within two years.

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