Research confirms that adding the drug omalizumah (Xolair) to an asthmatic's medication regimen helps reduce the need for emergency medical care.
The analysis looked at seven trials of 4,308 patients. In total, 93% of the patients had severe persistent asthma and approximately half were taking Xolair.
The researchers looked at the annual rate of emergency visits, including hospital admissions, visits to the emergency room and unscheduled doctor's visits.
Individuals who used Xolair in addition to their usual treatment had a 47% reduction in total emergency visits. That figure includes a 52% reduction in hospital admission, a 61% reduction in trips to the emergency room and a 47% reduction in unscheduled doctor visits.
The study was funded by the pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Genentech, which comarket the drug.
The study's approach gives the conclusions more credibility than any single study, says study co-author Dr. Phillip Korenblat, a professor of clinical medicine at Washington University School of Medicine located in St. Louis. A meta-analysis, he says, "gives you a large number of people over a longer period of time, [so] the study has more validity."
Persistent asthma carries a high risk of exacerbations and resultant medical treatment, explains Dr. Clifford Bassett, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the State University of New York.
"About 50% of all costs from asthma is attributable to severe asthma," Korenblat says. "If we can impact hospital stays, emergency room visits and unscheduled doctor's visits, this is terrific for the patient, and we should be impacting significantly on the cost of asthma cate."
Xolair, which interrupts the process that causes persistent asthma, is an important addition to treatment because "it is modifying a disease that can go on to have life-threatening complications," Bassett says. However he claims that treatment with Xolair is often a hard sell to patients because it is given in an injection that needs to be taken approximately once a month for life.
Korenblat disagrees with that assessment. "This is a revolutionary way to treat asthma," he says. "Patients do not complain about it."