Page last updated at 07:59 GMT, Wednesday, 10 September 2008 08:59 UK

Asthma and hay fever drug tested

Hay fever can make asthma worse

A new once-a-day drug to treat asthma and hay fever is to be tested in human trials for the first time.

The drug, RPL554, keeps the airways open, dampens down inflammation and protects against the irritants that trigger asthma.

Manufacturer Verona Pharma said trials would be conducted at the Centre for Human Drug Research in the Netherlands.

Research suggests that at least half of the 5.2 million people with asthma in the UK also have hay fever.

RPL554 could offer real hope of a significant breakthrough
Leanne Male
Asthma UK

When the two conditions are combined the risk of asthma attacks and emergency hospital admissions increase.

Current treatments for asthma and hay fever - known as beta-agonists - are effective at controlling the conditions, but there is a risk of side effects, such as damage to the cardiovascular system.

It is hoped that RPL554 - which is administered by an inhaler - can be just as effective, but with a much lower risk of side effects.

Enzyme block

The drug inhibits two enzymes known to play a key role in the development and progression of both asthma and hay fever.

See the drug-testing and development process in full

Blocking one enzyme, phosphodiesterase 3, should help keep the airways open, while blocking the other, phosphodiesterase 4, should help to control inflammation.

Because the drug is long-lasting, the developers hope patients will only need to take it once a day.

Leanne Male, of the charity Asthma UK, said: "There hasn't been much progress recently with alternative, effective and practical treatment options for a wide range of people with asthma and hay fever.

"However, by combining anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to overcome airway narrowing in a single long-lasting drug administered via the nose, RPL554 could offer real hope of a significant breakthrough."

The trial - to test the safety and efficacy of the drug - will start in November and is expected to be completed by summer next year.

If successful, it will be followed by larger scale trials involving hundreds of patients.

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