Press release: New generation asthma drug gets approval for NHS use

Asthma UK today welcomed the approval of a new drug to treat severe asthma on the NHS in England following a recommendation by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). But the charity urged health chiefs to ensure the treatment is made available to those who need it as soon and as widely as possible.

Mepolizumab (also known as Nucala) is one of the first in a new line of monoclonal antibody treatments designed to treat a specific type of asthma called severe eosinophilic asthma. This type of asthma is one of the most debilitating forms of the condition, involving an inflammation of the airways linked to a particular type of white blood cell (eosinophils).

Of the 5.4 million people with asthma in the UK, an estimated 3.6 to 5.0 per cent – roughly 250,000 adults and children - have severe asthma, around 100,000 of whom have severe eosinophilic asthma for whom this treatment is targeted towards.

The condition is usually diagnosed when people fail to respond to conventional treatments for asthma, which is normally managed with a preventer inhaler containing steroid medicine called corticosteroids.

Those with severe asthma will often need to take stronger steroid medication in the form of steroid tablets or higher dose preventer inhalers. However, some people with severe asthma remain poorly responsive to all types of treatment.

Despite already being available in Scotland, mepolizumab had previously been rejected for use in England by NICE. Asthma UK presented strong evidence to NICE of the need for this new type of treatment to improve the quality of life for many of those living with severe asthma reliant on high dose steroid medication which carries the risk of serious side effects from prolonged use.

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK, said: “We are delighted that mepolizumab has finally been recommended for use on the NHS. It has the potential to transform the lives of many people with one of the most debilitating forms of asthma.  Not only should it improve some people’s symptoms and reduce the risk of life-threatening asthma attacks, but we also hope it will reduce their reliance on high doses of corticosteroids which can have unpleasant and harmful side effects in the long term. We now need to see mepolizumab made available to those who need it as soon as possible.”

Kay Boycott added: “Mepolizumab is one of a new generation of drugs that offers genuine hope to people with severe asthma. It is imperative that this and other new monoclonal antibody treatments which have shown success in clinical trials are also made available, as we believe they’re likely to be effective in treating around 40% of those living with severe asthma. It’s important to note though that these treatments will only benefit a certain group of people and there remain many thousands more for whom no effective treatments are available. More research is needed so that in the future all people with severe asthma will have an effective treatment option.”

Case study – Lehanne from South London

Lehanne was part of the group of patient and clinical experts who gave evidence at the first NICE appraisal hearing on Mepolizumab. Here, she tells her story:

I was first diagnosed with severe asthma in my childhood and it’s been a struggle for most of my life.

I went to university to study Estate Management and was able to get a degree despite being admitted to hospital regularly due to asthma attacks.

I took a job as a chartered surveyor which I loved, but the regular hospital admissions – both scheduled and emergency ones - eventually just got to be too much and reluctantly I had to give up my job.

Being on high doses of corticosteroids for such a long time has led to all sorts of health problems from their side effects including bone damage. I’ve had a hip replacement and surgery on my neck because my bones have weakened and I also live in constant pain from problems with my lower back.  I am on regular nebulisers and cannot leave the house without my portable nebuliser.

Daily, I take home infusions of Bricanyl and every five weeks I'm admitted to the Royal Brompton hospital for ten days treatment of intravenous infusion of aminophylline, hydrocortisone and physiotherapy.

Life is an endless stream of good periods interspersed with episodes of deterioration which end with me being admitted to hospital. I spent last Christmas in hospital being intubated because I couldn’t breathe. My husband is very understanding and does his best to help, but it’s stressful and difficult for both of us.

I’m desperate for new treatments as are so many of us who live with severe asthma. I really hope the new drugs becoming available will make a difference to our lives.

Notes to Editors:

For more information, please contact the Asthma UK media team on mediaoffice@asthma.org.uk, 020 7786 4949 (during office hours) or 07951 721393 (outside of office hours).

The Asthma UK Data Portal is a new online tool for journalists to access the latest figures and trends in asthma outcomes across the UK. Information on asthma facts and statistics can also be found on our website.

About Asthma UK

  • In the UK, 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).
  • Every day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack, and tragically two thirds of these deaths are preventable.
  • Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and 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.
  • The Asthma UK Helpline is open weekdays from 9am to 5pm on 0300 222 5800.
  • For more information about asthma please visit www.asthma.org.uk