Researchers are hailing Novartis' fevipiprant (QAW039) as a game-changer in asthma treatment after a Lancet-published trial showed its potential to significantly reduce the severity of the condition.

The research, funded by Novartis Pharmaceuticals, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the EU (AirPROM) and carried out by scientists at Leicester University, demonstrated that the pill significantly decreased the symptoms of asthma, improved lung function, reduced inflammation and repaired the lining of airways.

"Most treatments might improve some of these features of disease, but with fevipiprant improvements were seen with all of the types of tests," noted lead researcher Professor Christopher Brightling, a NIHR Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Professor in Respiratory Medicine at the University of Leicester.

In the small trial, which involved just 61 patients, one group was given 225mg of the drug twice a day for 12 weeks and the other a placebo, given in addition to medication already being taken by the participants.

The study was designed primarily to examine the effects on inflammation in the airway by measuring the sputum eosinophil count. Patients who do not have asthma have a percentage of less than one while those with moderate-to-severe asthma typically have about about five percent.

The rate in asthma patients taking fevipiprant was reduced from an average of 5.4 percent to 1.1 percent over 12 weeks, according to the study results, published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

"We already know that using treatments to target eosinophilic airway inflammation can substantially reduce asthma attacks. This new treatment, fevipiprant, could likewise help to stop preventable asthma attacks, reduce hospital admissions and improve day-to-day symptoms - making it a 'game changer' for future treatment," Prof Brightling said.

"This research shows massive promise and should be greeted with cautious optimism," commented Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK.

"The possibility of taking a pill instead of using an inhaler will be a very welcome one among the 5.4 million people in the UK with asthma, particularly as this study focused on people who develop the condition in later life, some of whom we know can struggle with the dexterity required to use an inhaler."

"We're a long way off seeing a pill for asthma being made available over the pharmacy counter, but it's an exciting development and one which, in the long term, could offer a real alternative to current treatments."

The drug, the first new asthma pill in twenty years, is also currently being evaluated in late stage clinical trials in patients with severe asthma.