Biologic Medications for AERD (Samter's Triad)
This area of research has seen an explosion of activity in the past several years. Biologic drugs are administered by injection, usually once every 2 to 8 weeks. Biologic medications are designed to inhibit specific components of the immune system that play crucial roles in fueling inflammation.
Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease is difficult to control with conventional treatments. These new biologic drugs offer hope to AERD (Samter's Triad) patients who haven't found relief from other medications. Some of these medications are currently only approved by the FDA for the treatment of severe asthma, but Dupixent (dupilumab) and Xolair (omalizumab) have also been approved for the treatment of nasal polyps. Biologic medications can be difficult to get approved for. Your blood work may need to demonstrate that you meet certain criteria (such as high enough eosinophil levels). In addition to this, biologic medications can be expensive depending on your insurance coverage. If you are approved for one of these medications and need help paying for it, many of the drug manufacturers do have prescription assistance plans.
The most commonly prescribed biologics for AERD are discussed in detail below, but numerous others are in development. It is expected that several new medications of this class will be available within the next few years.
Omalizumab (Xolair) works by blocking IgE (immunoglobulin E), a substance made by the body that plays a key role in the allergic response. Xolair is approved by the FDA for the treatment of inadequately controlled moderate-to-severe asthma as well as for nasal polyps inadequately controlled with corticosteroid medications. There is even some limited research and case reports which suggest that Xolair may reduce or eliminate reactions to aspirin and NSAIDs in some AERD (Samter's Triad) patients, but more research in this area is needed.
Research on Omalizumab (Xolair)
Mepolizumab is an anti-interleukin-5 monoclonal antibody. Nucala is approved by the FDA for the treatment of severe asthma in patients 12 years or older and with an eosinophilic phenotype. Nucala is recommended for those with asthma that is not able to be controlled with inhaled steroid medications. A recent study found that Nucala reduced the need for sinus surgery in patients with severe nasal polyps. Research done at Brigham & Women's found that Nucala reduced sinus symptoms, including anosmia and congestion, in AERD patients. A 2017 study found that serious adverse reactions to Nucala are rare. Of 1,300 patients taking Nucala for severe eosinophilic asthma, only 2 serious adverse events were reported (asthma exacerbations). Nucala is taken every 4 weeks.
Research on Mepolizumab (Nucala)
Fasenra (benralizumab) is approved in the US for the treatment of severe eosinophilic asthma. Like Nucala and Cinqair, it is an anti-IL5 antibody. It is currently being studied as a treatnent for nasal polyps. Fasenra has been shown to rapidly deplete eosinophil levels, reduce oral steroid use, and reduce the occurrence of severe asthma attacks. Fasenra is the only biologic medication currently available for asthma that has an 8 week dosing schedule, which may make it more convenient for patients.
Research on Benralizumab (Fasenra)
Dupixent is approved for the treatment of moderate to severe asthma and also for nasal polyps inadequately controlled with corticosteroid medications. Dupixent is an IL-4 and IL-13 monoclonal antibody. This medication has been shown to improve asthma, reduce nasal polyp symptoms, and improve smell function. Dupilumab is approved for home administration after proper training.
Research on Dupilumab (Dupixent)
Risks of Biologic Medications
These medications are generally well tolerated, but side effects do occur in some patients. We recommend visiting the manufacturer's website to see detailed side effect information on each medication. Biologic medications are newer treatments, so the long term safety has not been established.
Aspirin Desensitization vs Biologic Medications
With the availability of new treatments, patients must now consider which treatment option is right for them. At this point, there is no definite answer about which treatment will work best for which patient. Both of these treatments can be successful for patients and some patients may require both aspirin desensitization and a biologic medication to feel well. Other patients are not able tolerate one or the other due to side effects. At this time, there's no definite answer as far as which of these will be most successful for which patient. One consideration is that aspirin desensitization should be done after surgery, whereas this is not required with biologic medications like Dupixent. There may also be significant difference in the cost of these treatments for patients - daily aspirin is relatively inexpensive, whereas biologic medications may be expensive depending on insurance coverage. Patients and doctors should discuss the pros and cons of both treatments and come up with a plan that takes the patients preference into consideration.
In this webinar, Dr. Tanya Laidlaw of the Brigham AERD Center discusses the treatment of nasal polyps with new biologic medications.
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