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Br J Pharmacol. 2006 Jan;147 Suppl 1:S297-303.

Drugs for asthma.

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Department of Thoracic Medicine, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College School of Medicine, Dovehouse St, SW3 6LY London.


Current drug therapy for asthma is highly effective and has evolved from naturally occurring substances through logical pharmaceutical developments. Pharmacology has played a critical role in asthma drug development and several key experimental observations have been published in this journal. Understanding the pharmacology of effective drug therapies has also taught us much about the underlying mechanisms of asthma. beta(2)-Adrenoceptor agonists are the most effective bronchodilators and evolved from catecholamines from the adrenal medulla, whereas corticosteroids, from the adrenal cortex, are by far the most effective controllers of the underlying inflammatory process in the airways. The current 'gold standard' of asthma therapy is a combination inhaler containing a long-acting beta(2)-agonist with a corticosteroid - an improved form of adrenal gland extract. Cromoglycate, derived from a plant product and theophylline, a dietary methyl xanthine, have also been extensively used in the therapy of asthma, but we still do not understand their molecular mechanisms. Pharmacology has played an important role in improving natural products to make effective long lasting and safe asthma therapies, but has so far been challenged to produce new classes of antiasthma therapy. The only novel class of antiasthma therapy introduced in the last 30 years are leukotriene antagonists, which are less effective than existing treatments. New, more specific, therapies targeted at specific cytokines are less effective than corticosteroids, whereas more effective therapies carry a risk of side effects that may not be acceptable. It seems likely that pharmacology, rather than molecular genetics, will remain the main approach to the further improvement of treatment for asthma.

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