Q: I have asthma, and I never know when an attack might start! But I hear that researchers finally might have found a drug that cures the disease. Is it true? And if so, when will it be available?
Paul S., Knoxville, Tennessee
A: You need to be cautiously optimistic, Paul. There haven’t been clinical trials using this class of drugs to treat asthma, although the medication you’re referring to was put through clinical trials for treating osteoporosis over 15 years ago! It turned out to be safe and well-tolerated; disappointingly, it didn’t reliably treat bone loss. Fast-forward to this year.
Researchers have determined that asthma is caused when something goes haywire with calcium sensor receptors in your airways. They also found that a class of drugs called calcilytics (the same ones that were investigated to treat osteoporosis) can deactivate calcium sensor receptors and stop airways from twitching, getting inflamed and narrowing. And finally, they put human airway tissue from asthmatic and non-asthmatic people into mouse models of asthma and tested the effect of the medication. It eased airway twitchiness, so there’s a direct indication that it’s effective against HUMAN tissue. But perhaps the most exciting aspect of this research is that calcilytics are already available.
Since a great deal of time and money has already been spent on them, it stands to reason that if clinical testing goes well, a new line of defense against asthma could be available pretty quickly. The first thing investigators will be looking at in clinical trials is how safe these drugs are when applied to the lungs using an inhaler.
About 8 percent of the 25 million folks in the U.S. with asthma don’t respond well to the medications available (they account for 90 percent of all asthma-related health care costs), and this could be a life-changing breakthrough. However, until the drug is available, it’s essential that you stay in frequent contact with your asthma doctor, adhere to whatever treatment routine you have decided is most effective for you and never go anywhere without your rescue inhaler.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at