Treatment options for initial maintenance therapy of persistent asthma: a review of inhaled corticosteroids and leukotriene receptor antagonists

Peter S Creticos
Drugs 2003, 63 Suppl 2: 1-20
Inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs) are recognized as the cornerstone of asthma therapy. They are considered to be the most effective anti-inflammatory medication currently available for the treatment of persistent asthma, regardless of its severity. Leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs) are also used as initial maintenance therapy in patients whose asthma is uncontrolled by bronchodilators alone. There are now sufficient data available to allow a comparison of the relative effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of LTRAs and ICSs as initial maintenance therapy. The consensus from the studies reviewed in this article demonstrates that ICSs are more effective than LTRAs as initial maintenance therapy. In particular, studies on fluticasone propionate have shown that it was more effective than LTRAs in clinical outcomes: producing greater improvements in lung function and asthma control; as measured by either forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) or peak expiratory flow (PEF); by a greater reduction in daytime and night-time asthma symptoms; and short-acting beta2-agonist use. This superiority was also seen when patients were switched from an LTRA to fluticasone propionate. Similar findings have been demonstrated with beclomethasone dipropionate (BDP), showing that, in adults, this inhaled steroid also had a greater effect on pulmonary function and symptom scores than did LTRAs. Quality of life assessments showed that fluticasone propionate achieved improvements that were deemed to be clinically meaningful; these changes were significantly greater than those achieved with LTRAs. However, questionnaire-based patient preference studies comparing BDP with LTRAs showed that children and adolescents generally preferred an LTRA to BDP. A number of comparative analyses showed that inhaled fluticasone propionate is more cost-effective than either montelukast or zafirlukast; these analyses used cost per symptom-free day and cost per successfully treated patient as outcome measures, from the perspective of a third-party payer. In general, these results were supported by resource utilisation studies in real-world settings. Asthma treatment guidelines (e.g. GINA, 2002) recommend combination therapy with ICSs and a long-acting beta2-agonist as initial maintenance therapy if the disease is of sufficient severity. Studies that assessed the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and quality of life achieved with a salmeterol fluticasone propionate combination as initial maintenance therapy also showed it to be superior to LTRAs. In conclusion, in terms of efficacy and quality of life, fluticasone propionate is more effective than LTRAs as initial maintenance therapy and is associated with significantly lower healthcare costs and less frequent use of healthcare resources than LTRAs. There is also evidence to suggest that initial maintenance therapy with the combination of an inhaled steroid plus a long-acting beta-agonist bronchodilator may be a more effective option for the management of persistent asthma than treatment with a single-controller agent alone (ICS or LTRA).


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