An investigational new asthma pill, Fevipiprant, an oral, selective prostaglandin D2 receptor antagonist, has been designed to target airway muscles to decrease attacks.

An increase in airway smooth muscle is the strongest predictor of reduced airflow into the lungs due to airway narrowing. It significantly increases the likelihood of more frequent asthma attacks and even asthma-related deaths.

Results from a Phase II clinical trial, experimental work on cells and computational modelling have all shown Fevipiprant to successfully reduce the amount of smooth muscle in the airway lining, in research supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre.

The pill would be the first of its kind in 20 years, with Professor Chris Brightling, a consultant respiratory physician at Leicester’s Hospitals and professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Leicester, explaining: “Our research shows for the first time that Fevipiprant not only reduces inflammation in the airways, but also reduces the amount of muscle in the lining of the airway. This is likely to explain some of the effects seen in the symptoms and breathing tests following treatment.”

There is currently no routinely-available drug on the NHS that targets smooth muscle mass to reduce asthma symptoms. For people with severe asthma, a procedure called thermoplasty, which uses thermal energy to decrease the amount of smooth muscle in the airways, may be offered. This requires sedation in hospital and is not a cure, nor suitable for everyone. Most patients with severe asthma rely on high dose inhaled or oral steroids to manage their symptoms.

Asthma affects over 300 million people worldwide and its prevalence is on the increase. There are around half a million people with moderate to severe forms of asthma in the UK.