Background: Eosinophilic inflammation, which may be a consequence of interleukin-5 action, is a characteristic feature of some forms of asthma. However, in three previous clinical trials involving patients with asthma, blockade of this cytokine did not result in a significant improvement in outcomes. We studied the prednisone-sparing effect of mepolizumab, a monoclonal antibody against interleukin-5, in a rare subgroup of patients who have sputum eosinophilia and airway symptoms despite continued treatment with prednisone. Secondary objectives were to examine its effect on the number of eosinophils in sputum and blood, symptoms, and airflow limitation.
Methods: In this randomized, double-blind, parallel-group trial involving patients with persistent sputum eosinophilia and symptoms despite prednisone treatment, we assigned 9 patients to receive mepolizumab (administered in five monthly infusions of 750 mg each) and 11 patients to receive placebo.
Results: There were 12 asthma exacerbations in 10 patients who received placebo, 9 of whom had sputum eosinophilia at the time of exacerbation. In comparison, only one patient who received mepolizumab had an asthma exacerbation, and this episode was not associated with sputum eosinophilia (P=0.002). Patients who received mepolizumab were able to reduce their prednisone dose by a mean (+/-SD) of 83.8+/-33.4% of their maximum possible dose, as compared with 47.7+/-40.5% in the placebo group (P=0.04). The use of mepolizumab was associated with a significant decrease in the number of sputum and blood eosinophils. Improvements in eosinophil numbers, asthma control, and forced expiratory volume in 1 second were maintained for 8 weeks after the last infusion. There were no serious adverse events.
Conclusions: Mepolizumab reduced the number of blood and sputum eosinophils and allowed prednisone sparing in patients who had asthma with sputum eosinophilia despite prednisone treatment. (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00292877.)
2009 Massachusetts Medical Society