Researchers have demonstrated that an antibiotic is effective at
treating acute asthma attacks, potentially providing a new way to help
asthma sufferers.

Research published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows
that the antibiotic, telithromycin, can hasten the recovery time of
patients who have had asthma attacks by three days, as well as reducing
their symptoms and improving lung function.

Treatment for some serious asthma attacks can involve the use of
steroids, which help control inflammation of the lungs and
bronchodilators to open airways.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.The researchers tested telithromycin, an antibiotic made by
sanofi-aventis and not currently used for treating asthma, as part of
the TELICAST (TELIthromycin, Chlamydophila and ASThma) study. The study
investigated 278 patients at 70 centres around the world, including St
Mary’s Hospital, London.

The team included researchers from Imperial College London,
the University of Milan, the University of Auckland, the National
Jewish Medical Centre, USA, G.R. Micro Ltd, London, and sanofi-aventis,

The patients were enrolled in the study within 24 hours of an
acute asthma attack requiring acute medical care. They were then
randomised double blind to either ten days oral treatment with a single
800mg dose of telithromycin daily, or placebo in addition to usual
treatment. Telithromycin is currently not licensed to treat asthma.

Symptoms and lung function for the patients in the
telithromycin group improved significantly compared to those in the
placebo group, with improvements being around twice as great at the end
of the treatment period. Recovery time was also cut from an average of
eight days for the placebo group, to five days for those in the
telithromycin group.

Although most acute asthma attacks are recognised to be
associated with viral infections, the researchers believe the positive
effects of telithromycin may be a result of its impact on the atypical
bacteria, Chlamydophila pneumoniae and Mycoplasma pneumoniae. They
found 61 percent of the patients in the studyThe image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. were serologically
positive for C. pneumoniae and/or M. pneumoniae, and believe the
presence of these bacteria may increase the severity of asthma attacks.
The researchers also believe the anti-inflammatory properties of
telithromycin may play a part in reducing recovery time.

Professor Sebastian Johnston from Imperial College London, who
led the research, said: "Traditionally antibiotics have not proven
effective in treating asthma attacks, but this development could open
up a whole new area of research in the treatment of asthma.
Although we’re not sure about the exact mechanism which caused this
antibiotic to be effective, this study indicates it does clearly have a
beneficial effect. We still need further trials to confirm these
results, to investigate the mechanisms of action of this treatment, to
see if the same benefits are seen with other related antibiotics and to
see which patients are most likely to benefit."

Tony Stephenson