What to Know About Biologic Medicines for Severe Asthma

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This educational article was written by Amgen in partnership with the Allergy & Asthma Network, an organization that helps people affected by asthma, allergies and related conditions through outreach, education, advocacy and research.

Woman consulting a doctor

When most people think of asthma, they imagine someone using a rescue inhaler when they feel out of breath. However, for many people living with asthma, a rescue inhaler isn’t always enough. This is even more true for people living with severe asthma

Asthma is a complex range of diseases, and severe asthma is not the same as the childhood asthma most people are familiar with. Sometimes, people with severe asthma may not experience their first symptoms until adulthood, and their condition often requires management plans beyond using inhalers, including preventive medicines and lifestyle changes. That’s because, for people with severe asthma, something as simple as the scent of perfume could be enough to trigger an attack that requires a trip to the hospital.

People living with severe asthma may feel like the condition could remain uncontrolled for the rest of their lives, even with a management plan and taking steps to reduce risks. Imagine having to keep a rescue inhaler within arm’s reach 24 hours a day. Or making dramatic lifestyle changes to control your environment, such as not going outside when the weather’s particularly warm or cold, being extra careful to avoid dust or pollen in your home, or even choosing vacation spots with hospitals nearby in case of an emergency.  

But treatment options for severe asthma exist, including medications called biologics that may help prevent some attacks for certain people living with severe asthma.

What Are Biologics?

Biologics are a type of medicine made from living cells, proteins such as antibody or gene therapies, many of which represent the cutting edge of medical innovation. Biologics can be powerful therapies because they can be targeted to specific actions in the body for the treatment of many different serious illnesses, including cancer, osteoporosis, and inflammatory diseases like asthma.

Amgen created one of the world’s first biologic medicines in the 1980s, and today the biotech company remains a leader in the innovation, development and manufacturing of biologics across a range of disease types. Understanding how diseases fundamentally work the fundamental biological mechanisms of disease is a defining feature of Amgen's discovery research efforts. Amgen scientists are committed to harnessing the power of the human body to combat the most serious illnesses people face.

Asthma Is More Than Just “Trouble Breathing”

Asthma is a spectrum of chronic, long-term lung disease that is very individualized, which means that every person living with asthma has their own unique experience that requires a custom treatment plan to manage their condition. 

Asthma is an inflammatory disease in which a trigger —such as an allergen, smoke, or a virus —causes inflammation in the airways. But it doesn't stop there. When an outside trigger causes inflammation, the immune system, along with certain cells and chemical signals—, creates a waterfall effect of even more inflammation that narrows the airways, making it harder to breathe.

Because each person’s asthma is different, patients can have unique triggers, and unique responses to them. Different people with asthma will require personalized treatment approaches to control their condition. Asthma also disproportionately affects Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous Americans due to health disparities, including environmental and economic factors. Scientists are actively working to better understand the causes of asthma and how to better manage it in different populations. 

How Can Biologics Help With Severe Asthma?

Biologics for asthma are medicines that help prevent symptoms, rather than treating the symptoms after they occur. They are normally given once or twice a month to target the cells and pathways that lead to allergic inflammation and breathing problems with asthma.  

Biologics can make a big difference for people living with severe asthma, but not every biologic is right for every person. That’s why it’s so important for people with severe asthma, especially if their disease is uncontrolled, to work with their asthma or allergy specialist to decide which management plan best fits their unique needs – and whether that management plan should include a biologic. 

For more information, and suggested questions to ask your health care provider at an upcoming appointment, check out the video, Ask the Allergist: Biologics for Severe Asthma, from the Allergy & Asthma Network.

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