The Use of Biologics in Asthma: Recent breakthroughs:Part 1

Asthma is a common condition seen in our practice. Many people with asthma respond well to established therapies, especially if they are compliant and follow through with the treatment plan. However, there is a significant subset of people who have severe and/or unresponsive disease. These people may suffer tremendously with a decreased quality of life, corticosteroid side effects, and an increased risk of hospitalization, or even death from an asthma attack. Recently, a number of helpful biological medicines have emerged to address this need for asthma, as well as chronic hives, and eczema (atopic dermatitis). Biological medications are medications that use advanced biotechnology to target specific disease pathways. They have revolutionized the treatment of the above mentioned allergic conditions and have given long-suffering patients a new lease on life. In part 1, I will discuss the use of biologics in asthma. In part 2, I will addresst he use of biological medications in chronic hives, and eczema.

The disease of asthma is divided into multiple subtypes. One of the common subtypes is known as type 2 (T2) asthma. (T2 asthma is associated with T2 inflammation with expression of cytokine proteins such as interleukin-4 (IL-4), interleukin-5 (IL-5), and interleukin-13 (IL-13), that drive the allergic inflammatory response.) People with T2 asthma are frequently allergic, have a type of white blood cell in their airways called eosinophils, and may have an elevated level of nitric oxide in their exhaled breath. The FDA has approved four biological medicines that target severe T2 asthma. Xolair (omalizumab) binds to the allergy antibody IgE to make it unavailable to participate in allergic reactions. Nucala (mepolizumab), Cinqair (reslizumab), and Fasenra (benralizumab) bind to either IL-5 (Nucala, Cinqair), or the IL-5 receptor (Fasenra), all of which lower the number of eosinophils in the lungs. These new medications have been shown to dramatically decrease asthma exacerbations, improve the quality of life, reduce or remove the need for oral corticosteroids, and lessen asthma symptoms. These medicines are given by injection in an allergy office. They have been found to be very safe and have few side effects.

Targeted biological therapies are extremely effective and safe in many people with severe asthma. They represent a dramatic step forward toward addressing an unmet need in patients who would otherwise suffer, have a decreased quality of life, and have side effects from more dangerous medications. We can look forward to ongoing research ultimately providing more biological medicines in the future.


1. Desai, M. Biologics and allergic immunologic diseases: Promises and challenges in the era of personalized medicine. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2018:120:350-3.
2. Saco, T. Uses of biologics in allergic disease: What to choose and when. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2018:120:357-366.
3. Berry, A. Biomarkers and asthmatic patients: Has their time come to direct treatment? J Allergy Clin Immun 2016:137:1317-24

Prevention of Peanut Allergy

Two years ago, Dr. Michael Keiley reviewed a recent landmark study (Learning Early about Peanut (LEAP) Study) which suggested that peanut allergy can be prevented through introduction of peanut-containing foods beginning at 4-6 months of age in high-risk infants. (please see post from Feb. 2015). Prompted by these findings, and in collaboration with 25 professional organizations, federal agencies and patient advocacy groups, recommendations have been added to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) food allergy guidelines to specifically address prevention of peanut allergy.

Briefly, the NIAID “Expert Panel” (EP) has added three addendums to the guidelines that address introduction of peanut (see Table 1). The three separate recommendations are to address different groups of infants that have a different risk for peanut allergy.

The first addendum guideline is for infants with severe eczema, egg allergy or both. For this group the EP recommends evaluation for peanut introduction as early as 4-6 months of age. Early introduction is to reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy (Other solid foods should be introduced before peanut containing foods). The EP recommends that these infants be evaluated for peanut allergy to determine whether or not peanut should be introduced. This can be done with a blood test, skin test or both. Figure 1 shows the recommended actions based on the testing results. We should emphasize that in this high risk group, you and your clinician may want to consult with an allergy specialist to determine how to proceed.

The second guideline addendum suggests that infants with mild-to-moderate eczema should have cautious introduction of age-appropriate peanut-containing food around 6 months of age. (Other solid foods should be introduced before peanut containing foods). While this introduction can be done at home, we would recommend you discuss it with your primary care clinician. He/she may recommend an in-office supervised feeding, evaluation, or both.

The third guideline addendum is for infants without eczema or any food allergy. The EP recommends age-appropriate peanut-containing foods can be freely introduced with other solid foods, in accordance with family preferences and cultural practices. However, the EP makes the point that early peanut introduction would probably be more beneficial than later introduction in these lower risk infants.

The participants in the LEAP Study ingested approximately 6 g of peanut butter per week in 3 separate meals. This would be 2 teaspoons of peanut butter 3 times per week.

Caution: Be aware of choking risks. The EP recommends that “whole nuts should not be given to children less than 5 years of age” and that undiluted “peanut butter directly from a spoon or in lumps/gallops should not be given to children less than 4 years of age.” For low risk infants receiving peanut butter at home for the first time, the EP recommends diluting 2 teaspoons of peanut butter with an equal volume of hot water, or pureed tolerated fruit/vegetables. A small part of the peanut serving should be introduced initially on the tip of a spoon, and 10 minutes later, if there is no allergic reaction, the remainder can be given at the infant’s usual eating speed. There should be a 2 hour observation period afterwards. If your child has severe eczema, egg allergy or both do not introduce peanut containing foods without having the child evaluated. If your child has had any previous reaction to peanut, do not offer additional peanut containing foods without having the patient evaluated. When in doubt, talk to your primary care clinician first!

1. Du Toit, G. et. al. Randomized trial of peanut consumption in infants at risk for peanut allergy. N Engl. J. Med 2015;372:803-13.
2. Togias, A. et. al. Addendum guidelines for the prevention of peanut allergy in the United States: Report of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-sponsored expert panel. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Downloaded from on February 28, 2017.

Intermittent Use of Inhaled Steroids May Prevent Asthma Exacerbations in Preschoolers

Many young people are prone to developing intermittent wheezing, usually with viral respiratory infections that can be potentially severe. This is an important issue this time of year when respiratory viruses become more common.

Various strategies have been used to prevent these episodes, including treating the child with inhaled steroids or the asthma pill Singulair year round. Another strategy is to start the inhaled steroid the moment the patient comes down with a cold and treating for about 7 to 10 days.

There was a recent study in the medical journal Pediatrics that compared these different strategies. They found that all three strategies are about equally effective in reducing significant asthma exacerbations. These treatments all decrease the likelihood of a bad exacerbation by about 30-40%.

It is important to recognize that recurrent wheezing, which may be able to be treated with just “as needed” inhaled steroids, is a different type of asthma from “persistent asthma.” Persistent asthma is when the patient has asthma symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing on a regular basis, usually more than twice a week. This type of asthma almost always requires daily therapy to prevent symptoms and complications.

Another important concept relating to recurrent wheezing is that if patients do not respond to the three strategies described above, they often will do very well by receiving a daily preventive treatment with a “combination inhaler.” Combination inhalers contain both an inhaled steroid, as well as a second ingredient called a long-acting bronchodilator. If your child has either symptoms of recurrent wheezing or more persistent asthma, we can discuss the best treatment strategies for your individual case.