Conference Coverage

No evidence to guide selection of biologic for severe asthma


Although “biologics have been really revolutionary for the treatment of severe uncontrolled asthma, we still don’t have evidence to know the right drug for the right patient,” said Wendy Moore, MD, of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.

“You start with your best guess and then switch,” she said in an interview.

There are no real-world contemporary measurements of biologic therapy in the United States at this time, Dr. Moore explained during her presentation of findings from the CHRONICLE trial at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST 2020), held virtually this year.

The agents have different targets: omalizumab targets immunoglobulin E, mepolizumab and reslizumab target interleukin (IL)-5, benralizumab targets the IL-5 receptor, and dupilumab targets the common receptor IL-4 receptor A for IL-4 and IL-13.

When the starting biologic doesn’t get the desired results, there is no evidence to show whether another will work better. What we say is, “This one is not working as well as I’d like, let’s try something new?” said Dr. Moore.

However, when looking at data on patients with severe asthma who change from one biologic to another, “I was actually pleased to see that only 10% are switching,” she said in an interview.

But, she added, “if you add that up with the 8% who are stopping, that means that almost 20% don’t get the clinical response they want.”


In the ongoing observational CHRONICLE trial, Dr. Moore and colleagues assessed biologic initiations, discontinuations, and switches to a different agent.

All 1,884 study participants had a diagnosis of severe asthma and were being treated by an allergist/immunologist or a pulmonologist. All were taking high-dose inhaled corticosteroids and additional controllers, or had received an Food and Drug Administration–approved monoclonal antibody, systemic corticosteroid, or another systemic immunosuppressant for at least half of the previous 12 months.

In the study cohort, 1,219 participants were receiving one biologic and 27 were receiving two.

Before November 2018, “it was almost universally all benralizumab being prescribed.” An earlier preference was omalizumab, which was prescribed to 99% of patients before November 2015 and to 45% from November 2017 to November 2018.

“As new drugs were introduced, patients were switched if the desired outcome was not achieved,” Dr. Moore explained.

Over the 2-year period from February 2018 to February 2020, 134 patients – about 10% of all participants taking a biologic – made 148 switches to another biologic.

“The most common reasons reported for switching were lack of efficacy, worsening of asthma control, or waning efficacy,” Dr. Moore reported.

Of the 101 patients (8%) who discontinued 106 biologics, reasons cited were a worsening of asthma symptoms, a desire to change to a cheaper medication, and a waning of effectiveness.

“It seems that the biologic used depended on when you started and whether you were prescribed by an immunologist or pulmonologist,” said Dr. Moore. “I don’t think we understand the perfect patient for any one of these drugs.”

Large-population studies need to be done on each of the drugs. “You have to look at who’s the super responder, the partial responder, compared with the nonresponders, for each medication, but those comparative studies are unlikely to happen,” she said.

In her own practice, her 175 patients are “pretty evenly split between dupilumab, benralizumab, and mepolizumab.”

I have opinions on what works, said Dr. Moore, but none of it is evidence-based. “Those with upper airway involvement with chronic sinusitis tend to do better with mepolizumab than benralizumab. My opinion,” she emphasized.

“People with nasal problems may do better with dupilumab and mepolizumab,” she added. “Also in my opinion.

“But more likely, the issue is you have a partial responder who’s on a T2 high drug but has a T2 low problem too.”


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