AstraZeneca has launched its latest weapon for the treatment of asthma - Symbicort SMART - in the UK, marking the first product offering both maintenance and reliever therapy in a single inhaler to hit the market, the group says.

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition of the airways characterised by reversible airway obstruction, and Symbicort Maintenance And Reliever Therapy offers a simpler and more effective treatment approach than traditional regimens, according to the firm. With the same inhaler, patients take a maintenance dose of Symbicort - which contains the anti-inflammatory, inhaled corticosteroid budesonide and the rapid, long-acting bronchodilator formoterol - for control of their asthma, as well as additional hits when required for symptom relief.

Symbicort SMART was given the all clear by European regulators last October, after it gave an impressive performance in several clinical studies involving more than 14,000 patients. And, importantly, in a head-to-head trial (COMPASS) against GlaxoSmithKline’s market heavyweight Advair (fluticasone/salmeterol) and a separate reliever therapy, Symbicort SMART beat its rival in reducing asthma exacerbations.

GINA guidance

“The results of published studies consistently show that Symbicort SMART reduces the risk of patients developing severe exacerbations,” commented Professor Peter Barnes, a member of the Global INitiative for Asthma Executive Committee said. “This new treatment approach represents a significant advance in how we treat asthma, and consequently we have recognised Symbicort SMART within the new GINA guidance.”

Sales of Symbicort came in at $585 million during the second quarter of the year, a far cry from Advair’s $4.55 billion in the same period. But the launch of the new SMART dosing should bolster the drug’s sales, and add some substantial ballast to AstraZeneca’s respiratory franchise.

The worldwide respiratory market for therapies to treat asthma and COPD was estimated at approximately $15 billion in 2005 and is expected to grow to $22 billion by 2015, according to IMS. It is estimated that combination therapies for asthma will capture more than 50% of the market by 2010.