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Study: Antibody Stops Asthma

Twelve-year-old Jason Greabeklis has suffered severe asthma all of his life. He never leaves home without emergency medication.

" I know the severity, I know how quickly he can go downhill," his mother, Maureen Greabeklis said. " I know how quickly it can become life threatening to him."

But an experimental therapy known as anti-IgE has enabled Jason to keep his asthma under control, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

Asthma is often triggered by allergies. When allergens enter the lung, an anti-body called IgE recognizes them as invaders, causing air passages to become constricted. The drug targets the anti-body and stops asthma attacks from starting.

In a study of more than 300 patients, the New England Journal of Medicine reports that nearly 50 percent showed improvement

"This is a real innovation," Dr. Henry Milgrom of the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, and the study's lead author said. Milgrom, like some of the other scientists involved in the study is a shareholder of Genentech Inc., which is one of three companies developing the antibody and paid for the research.

Milgrom and his colleagues tested the antibody anti-IgE and found it blocked a chemical reaction in the body that leads to the sneezing, coughing, swelling, hives and congestion seen in an asthma attack. That is unlike steroids -- the most commonly prescribed medication for severe asthma -- which can cause high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and slowed growth in children.

"It has changed my son's life and it has changed my life to be able to see him do things in a more natural way as other kids do," Maureen Greabeklis said.

The drug could be on the market within two years -- none too soon for America's 17 million asthma sufferers. About 1 in 20 Americans suffer from asthma, many of them children.

In addition to Genentech Inc., the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis Pharma AG and the Houston-based, biotechnology firm of Tanox, Inc., are helping to develop the antibody.

Anti-IgE "is a completely new approach to therapy, one that may greatly improve the treatment outlook for people with allergic asthma," Milgrom said.

The Milgrom study examined 306 patients who received a placebo or one of two doses of the drug. After 12 weeks of treatment the symptoms diminished in more than 40 percent of the volunteers getting anti-IgE drug. In contrast, 30 percent of the placebo recipients improved.

More importantly, more than a third of the anti-IgE patients were able to stop taking steroids, versus 17 percent of the placebo recipients.

"I expect longer term treatment is going to give even more impressive results," Milgrom said.

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