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Controversies and opportunities in severe asthma

Humbert, Marca,b; Busse, Williamc; Hanania, Nicola, A.d

Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine: January 2018 - Volume 24 - Issue 1 - p 83–93
doi: 10.1097/MCP.0000000000000438
ASTHMA: Edited by Nicola A. Hanania and Zuzana Diamant

Purpose of review Despite currently available treatments, many asthma patients remain inadequately controlled, but identifying distinct patient populations (phenotypes/endotypes) may optimize their management. This review discusses some of the controversies and opportunities for improved disease control in severe asthma.

Recent findings Currently approved anti-immunoglobulin E and anti-interleukin 5 biologics, which target specific pathways instead of using a ‘one size fits all’ strategy, are efficacious and well tolerated therapies for severe asthma. The appropriate use of these biologics, and of those in development (e.g., benralizumab and dupilumab), should be aided by further understanding of asthma phenotypes and endotypes, utilizing appropriate biomarkers.

Oral corticosteroids are often added as maintenance therapy for patients with severe uncontrolled asthma, but their use is associated with significant adverse effects and should be considered a last option. The true cost of this therapy, including the cost of morbidities associated with its use, remains to be determined.

Severe asthma in pediatrics poses a unique opportunity for possible prevention strategies and the potential for primary prevention. Although several avenues for primary prevention are being explored and are out of the scope of this review, we focus our discussion on the use of omalizumab, which has been recently explored in clinical trials.

Summary Appropriate use of biologics in severe asthma should be supported by further understanding of biomarkers predicting response to targeted therapy. Because of their association with significant adverse effects, add-on oral corticosteroids should be considered a last treatment option for patients with uncontrolled severe asthma. Finally, severe asthma in pediatrics poses a unique opportunity for potential prevention strategies.

aFaculté de Médecine, Univ. Paris-Sud, Université Paris-Saclay, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre

bService de Pneumologie, Assistance Publique Hôpitaux de Paris, Hôpital Bicêtre, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, France

cDepartment of Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, Wisconsin

dSection of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA

Correspondence to Marc Humbert, MD, PhD, Service de Pneumologie, Hôpital Bicêtre, 78, rue du Général Leclerc, 94270 Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, France. Tel: +33 145217972; e-mail:

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