"Lifeline" asthma jab must be available to people in all UK nations

  • An estimated 2,000 people in Scotland with the severest form of asthma can now get new asthma jab - dupilumab - to improve their symptoms but tens of thousands of people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are still missing out  

  • People with the severest form of asthma don’t respond to standard treatment, have constant asthma attacks and emergency trips to hospital. The only really effective treatments are regular, high-dose steroid tablet treatment which can cause osteoporosis, diabetes and severe weight gain 

  • Asthma UK is now calling on NICE and Sanofi to agree access for NHS England and Wales as soon as possible. The charity also wants to see the Department of Health recommend access in Northern Ireland.  

Leading respiratory charity, Asthma UK is calling for nationwide access to a new asthma treatment hailed as a “lifeline” for people with the severest form of the condition following its approval today for use in Scotland, but not in England, Wales and Northern Ireland 

Scotland is the first country in the UK to approve dupilumab (Dupixent), a potentially life-changing drug that could transform the lives of people with the severest form of asthma 

The decision by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) means that thousands of people living in Scotland with severe asthma eligible for monoclonal antibodies or ‘biologics’ will have a wider range of treatments available to them.  

This could be a game-changer for those who have the most severe form of asthma and who do not respond to other biologic treatments such omalizumab and mepolizumab. However, without approval from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and subsequent endorsement from the Department of Health Northern Ireland, tens of thousands of people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with severe asthma will continue to miss out.  

Biologics are genetically engineered proteins that target specific parts of the immune system that fuel inflammation. In clinical trials on people with severe asthma, dupilumab has been shown to reduce the frequency of asthma attacks and the use of emergency steroid tablets when combined with standard inhaler treatment.*  

NICE provisionally rejected the use of dupilumab on the NHS in March last year after concerns over its cost effectiveness. Asthma UK is now calling on NICE to meet with the drug’s manufacturers to agree access for the NHS in England and Wales as soon as possible. The hope is then Northern Ireland will follow suit.  

Nicki Ridgway, 38from Oxford is one of just a few people in England who has been able to access dupilumab and its transformative effects after she was given it in special circumstances because she wasn’t responding to other severe asthma treatments. She said:  

“This new drug is a wonder drug that has totally turned my life around. My asthma was so bad that I spent my late twenties and early thirties being blue-lighted to hospital regularly with life-threatening asthma attacks, rigged up to machines to help me breathe and not knowing if I was going to see my 35th birthday. I couldn't walk anywhere due to breathlessness and had severe asthma attacks without warning. My plans for starting a family were put on hold because I was too ill and the only thing that offered any kind of relief was long-term steroid tablets, but these caused me to rapidly put on weight and I was still in and out of hospital continuously. My partner had begun to feel like my carer and I was losing my independence.  

Since I have been on dupilumab, I feel like a new woman. I’ve taken part in cycling challenges, love walking my dogs, have a fantastic new job in health research and able to finally contemplate starting a family. I’m incredibly fortunate to have access to this treatment but it’s heart-breaking knowing that there are thousands of people in EnglandWales and Northern Ireland like me who could benefit from this lifeline drug but can’t access it.”  

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Innovation at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation said: 

“Today’s news is a real triumph for the thousands of people in Scotland living with the most severe form of asthma who haven’t had success with other biologic treatments. Severe asthma has a massive impact on people’s lives and can disrupt their home, work and social life.  

Dupilumab (Dupixent) offers a lifeline to many peoplehelping them to live more normal, active lives free from the fear of a life-threatening asthma attack striking at any time. We know that there is not a one-size fits all approach when it comes to treating severe asthma which is why it’s vital that dupilumab is granted access for the NHS in England and Wales as well as the Health and Social Care (HSC) in Northern Ireland. Until then, tens of thousands of people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will continue to miss out on this potentially life-changing treatment.  

“The consultation process has gone on for over three years, so now is the time for NICE and the manufacturer to agree a way a forward so that those in EnglandWales and Northern Ireland can access this treatment as soon as possible.” 

Too few patients with suspected severe asthma are being referred to specialist centres which means they are not getting a diagnosis or an opportunity to try biologic treatments. Asthma UK is campaigning to increase numbers of referrals and has developed a new online tool to help people with asthma get on top of uncontrolled symptoms, work out whether they need to ask their doctor for extra help or a referral, and/or ask for specialist support they might need. For more information, visit: www.asthma.org.uk/severeasthma 


 Notes to Editors:  

For more information or for interview requests, please contact the press team on 0207 786 4949 or mediaoffice@auk-blf.org.uk. 

Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation merged on the 1 January 2020. 

Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and, ultimately, cure asthma. We do this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people to reduce their risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. We are entirely funded by voluntary donations. For further information, please visit: asthma.org.uk. 

The British Lung Foundation offers hope, help and a voice to the 1 in 5 people in the UK affected by lung disease. We provide support and information to improve the everyday lives of people with lung disease. We are also campaigning for better diagnosis, treatment and prevention for now and the future. For further information, please visit blf.org.uk.