Treatment of childhood asthma with anti-immunoglobulin E antibody (omalizumab)

H Milgrom, W Berger, A Nayak, N Gupta, S Pollard, M McAlary, A F Taylor, P Rohane
Pediatrics 2001, 108 (2): E36

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: There seems to be a strong causal relationship between allergy and the origins of asthma. Susceptibility to both is determined by a combination of genetics and environment acting through a complex network of cytokines. Nearly 90% of affected children have positive skin tests indicating the presence of specific immunoglobulin E (IgE), with sensitivity to house dust mite, Alternaria, cockroach, cat, and dog most closely linked to the disease. Greater exposure to house dust mite during infancy leads to earlier onset of wheezing, and elevated serum IgE levels correlate with the appearance of asthma symptoms. Specific IgE binds to high-affinity (FcepsilonRI) receptors on mast cells and basophils. The IgE-mediated reactions that follow exposure of sensitized mast cells to an allergen are designated early- and late-phase asthmatic responses (EAR and LAR). EAR is characterized by release of histamine and other preformed mediators within 1 hour of allergen exposure. It is often followed by LAR, an infiltration of the airways by inflammatory cells associated with an episode of more prolonged, and usually more severe airflow obstruction, 4 to 8 hours after antigen exposure. Chronic airway symptoms result from persistent LAR caused by continuous allergen exposure. IgE antibodies are capable of passive transfer of both EAR and LAR sensitivity. IgE-mediated mast cell activation contributes to chronic tissue eosinophilia and airway remodeling, with permanent loss in pulmonary function. Omalizumab (rhuMAb-E25) is a recombinant, humanized, monoclonal anti-IgE antibody of mouse origin developed for the treatment of IgE-mediated diseases. Omalizumab binds to free IgE at the same site as the high-affinity receptor. Although it attaches to free IgE, it does not bind to IgA, IgG, or cell-bound IgE. It therefore does not induce cross-linking of cell-bound IgE, which would lead to the release of allergic mediators. It has been reported to decrease serum IgE levels in a dose-dependent manner, inhibit EAR and LAR, and cause a down-regulation of FcepsilonRI receptors on basophils. Omalizumab has been reported to be safe and effective in improving asthma control and reducing the requirement for oral and inhaled corticosteroids. This double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study evaluated the safety, steroid-sparing effects, and impact on disease exacerbations of omalizumab in the treatment of childhood asthma. Methods. Participants were 334 males and premenarchal females aged 6 to 12 years, with moderate to severe allergic asthma requiring treatment with inhaled corticosteroids. During a run-in phase, all children were switched to equivalent doses of beclomethasone dipropionate (BDP), and the dose was adjusted to assure maintenance of asthma control achieved with previous corticosteroid treatment. Children were randomized to subcutaneously administered placebo (N = 109) or omalizumab (N = 225) at a dose based on body weight and initial serum IgE (0.016 mg/kg/IgE [IU/mL] per 4 weeks). BDP dose (initial range 168-420 microg/d) was kept stable for 16 weeks (stable-steroid phase), reduced over 8 weeks to the minimum effective dose (steroid-reduction phase), and maintained constant for the final 4 weeks.

RESULTS: More participants in the omalizumab group decreased their BDP dose, and their reduction was greater than that of the placebo group (median reduction 100% vs 66.7%). BDP was withdrawn completely in 55% of the omalizumab group versus 39% of the placebo group. The incidence and the frequency of asthma exacerbations requiring treatment with doubling of BDP dose or systemic corticosteroids were lower in the omalizumab group. The treatment differences were statistically significant during the steroid-reduction phase, during which fewer participants in the omalizumab group had asthma exacerbation episodes (18.2% vs 38.5%), and the mean number of episodes per patient was smaller than with placebo (0.42 vs 2.72). Five asthma exacerbations requiring hospitalization all occurred in the placebo group. Participants' and investigators' global evaluations of treatment effectiveness were more favorable for omalizumab than placebo. Investigators rated effectiveness excellent for 31.5% of the omalizumab group versus 16.3% of the placebo group and good for 44.7% of the omalizumab group versus 32.7% of the placebo group. There was little change in asthma symptom scores or spirometry measurements during either the stable-steroid or steroid dose-reduction phase, with minimal differences between the treatment groups. The requirement for rescue medication in the omalizumab group during both the stable-steroid and steroid dose-reduction phases was consistently lower than at baseline. At week 28, the median number of puffs of rescue medication taken daily was 0 in the omalizumab group and 0.46 in the placebo group. The change from baseline was significant in favor of omalizumab. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED)

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