Norwich researchers hail effect of rarely-used asthma drug

A rarely prescribed asthma drug is easier to use and just as effective as conventional treatment with inhalers, according to a new study led by the University of East Anglia (UEA).

The researchers followed 650 patients with chronic asthma for two years. They found that tablets called leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs) managed the disease equally successfully as steroid inhalers and other 'preventer' inhalers when used in addition to steroid inhalers.

The unapid volunteer patients were recruited from 53 doctors' surgeries in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire and Dorset.

Co-author Dr Stanley Musgrave, of Norwich Medical School at UEA, added: 'LTRAs are easy to use and can help patients control their asthma effectively and improve their quality of life.'

The research comes as a survey for Asthma UK has revealed that education on the condition is not a priority despite more than half of GPs agreeing that the number of deaths could be reduced with better care.

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LTRAs – sold under the brand names 'Singulair' (montelukast) and 'Accolate' (zafirlukast) – have long been on the market as an alternative to the steroid inhalers commonly used by asthmatics to ward off attacks. They have historically been less fashionable than inhalers, however, and are considered by some to be less effective. Under UK guidelines they are currently recommended as third or fourth steps in asthma management. As a result, LTRAs are far less frequently prescribed than inhalers.

The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicate that LTRAs could provide an effective alternative to steroid inhalers and other 'preventer' inhalers when used in addition to steroid inhalers, which could be useful for the more than 80pc of patients who have problems using inhalers, are unable to use them due to side effects, or do not want to take steroids. 'We hope these findings will increase the options for healthcare professionals when prescribing for this common but disruptive disease,' said lead author Prof David Price of the University of Aberdeen and UEA.

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'We found that adherence to treatment was vastly improved – by as much as 60pc – when patients were given the once-a-day LTRA tablets and patients did not have to worry about using appropriate inhaler technique.'

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