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Drug trial offers asthma sufferers new hope

The Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) is launching a trial to investigate if a rheumatoid arthritis medication could have applications for asthma sufferers.

Geneticist Dr Manuel Ferreira from the QIMR recently led an international study which identified genetic variants that increase the risk of asthma.

“Our study discovered that one of the variants found in the interleukin-6 receptor (IL6R) gene plays an important role in asthma,” Dr Ferreira said.

“This gene is already a target for drugs that treat rheumatoid arthritis and as a result of our study we are eager to see if we can use this medication on patients with asthma.

“Thanks to the support of the Queensland Government through their Smart Futures Fellowships, we will be trialing a form of the rheumatoid arthritis drug on small number of asthma patients that have been participating in QIMR’s asthma study.

“Asthma impacts one in 10 Australians and can have a debilitating effect on their quality of life, so it is exciting to be able to look at possible future treatment options.

“Asthma is complex and there is still so much to understand about this disease, but trialing this potential treatment and our recent genetic discovery are helping us put together a clearer picture of asthma and hopefully offer more treatment options for sufferers.”

The trial is expected to take three years and will commence in June 2012, when 200 asthma sufferers will be tested for suitability, then narrowed down to 32 participants.

Dr Ferreira said that the final participants will then be administered with the rheumatoid arthritis drug to investigate its effectiveness.

“This small trial is an important step in understanding the drug’s effictiveness in treating asthma and if the findings are positive, carrying out a larger clinical trial could be a future possibility,” Dr Ferreira said.

Dr Ferreira leads the largest Australian study of asthma genetics – the Australian Asthma Genetics Consortium – which has brought together the top asthma experts from across the country to try to identify genes that increase the risk of developing asthma.

“There is still the opportunity for people to become involved with the asthma study at QIMR, with the potential of participating in the drug trial,” Dr Ferreira said.

If you have been diagnosed with asthma by a doctor and are interested in participating in the study please call 1800 257 179 or visit